Gil Wilson, in front of Lismore Base Hospital.
Gil Wilson, in front of Lismore Base Hospital. The Northern Star

Health boss blames unhealthy lifestyles for high sick leave

COMMENTS by Local Health District chief executive Chris Crawford about some staff taking sickies because of bad lifestyle habits have been savaged by the local nurses union.

The local branch of the NSW Nurses Association has demanded Mr Crawford withdraw the "inappropriate" comments which he made in a recent newsletter, part of a "three prong strategy" to tackle the Local Health District's higher than average sick leave rate.

Mr Crawford wrote in a staff newsletter:

"Managers have reported that some staff are taking sick leave due to their general state of unwellness, resulting from their engaging in unhealthy lifestyles (eg smoking, excess drinking, overweightness, and being unfit)."

NSW Nurses Association branch secretary Gil Wilson said it was an "idiotic, stupid comment" made in the wrong forum which "completely and indiscriminately" labelled people.

"He's not actually mentioning workloads; he's just focused on the fact that he thinks we're fat, and we drink and smoke too much," Mr Wilson said.

"If you look at factors that do affect your health, shift work is a major one.

"Large amounts of night duty are proven to shorten your life span.

"He's not taking that into consideration (but) he's more than happy to point out our lifestyle."

Last week, the union sent a resolution to Mr Crawford asking him to explain the comments and withdraw them.

But Mr Crawford has defended the comments, describing them as "unexceptional" and "very appropriate".

"We do have staff who are not as fit as they could be," he said.

"I'm sure it's not just our staff, but the general community of people living unhealthy lifestyles unfortunately, and that's contributing to things like diabetes growing at quite a rate."

Mr Crawford said staff would be offered quit smoking coaching and reduced cost nicotine replacement, while obese people could be offered fitness programs and advice on healthy eating.

"I would have thought (this) was pretty much core business for a health service," he said.

Mr Crawford said the comments relating to excessive sick leave was only applicable to a small percentage of staff and sick leave rates were higher than average for more reasons than staff pursuing "unhealthy lifestyles".

The more common problems were people taking sick leave before or after holidays or when they couldn't get a day off to manage a family commitment.

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