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Scottish standard time system


The Scottish Standard Time System (SSTS) records absences for all staff working at NHS Boards except Scottish Ambulance Service. Absences of all types are included, for example, sickness absence, annual leave, special leave, and maternity and paternity leave.

An period of absence is recorded in SSTS with a start date, end date, absence type, absence reason (if sickness absence type is used), and hours lost. 

SSTS is connected to NHS Boards local payroll systems to ensure that staff are correctly paid. Data for sickness absence are then passed from Payroll to the Scottish Workforce Information Standard System (SWISS). 

What data are published

The sickness absence rate is released annually in June as part of the NHSScotland Workforce official statistics publication. 

NES queries SWISS to calculate the sickness absence rate for the previous financial year by NHS Board. This query includes all staff who are or have been in an active post and not working on a Bank contract type. 

Due to current information governance arrangements in NHSScotland, NES does not extract and process the data using the same methods applied to other data in SWISS. Therefore, the staff included in these data may be slightly different compared with the staff included in the employment/staff in post data. For example, any doctors in training will be included in their Board of employment (as per SWISS) rather than their Board of placement.


Sickness absence in NHSScotland can result in cancelled appointments and procedures and lead to increased expenditure on supplementary staff, such as medical locum and agency nurses. The Scottish Government set a national standard which required NHS Boards to achieve a sickness absence rate of 4.0% or less from 31 March 2009.

If someone leaves post, their sickness absence data is retained for three years after termination limiting historical sickness absence analysis.

Further information

Absences related to COVID-19 are included under Special Leave absence type so that it does not affect pay. These data are not passed to SWISS and not currently available to NES. The Scottish Government has reported absences due to COVID-19 on their website.

Quality assurance and limitations

Quality assurance

Absence information is sourced from SSTS via SWISS. This is a dynamic operational system in which the data can change over time due to their live status and potential additional updates made by NHS Boards. Accuracy of coding is crucial to the quality and credibility of the data. The responsibility for data accuracy lies with the Boards providing the data. However, NES seeks to minimise data inaccuracies by following steps.

  1. Extract data at a regular frequency (four weeks after the end of the financial year) which is agreed with data providers.

  2. Once these data have been extracted, NES carry out a second phase of quality assurance. This involves: (i) checking for any errors, or missing values, in the data, (ii) comparing figures with previous extracts, and (iii) comparing with sickness absence data circulated to all NHS Boards by the national eESS / SWISS team. When required, NES clarify any large changes in data with data providers.

  3. These data are then processed to combine with previous data and reporting software Reporting software, PowerBI, are updated so as to include the new data. The outputs are then checked to ensure the values are shown accurately and any additional data intelligence are noted.

  4. These data are part of the two-week early release quality assurance process where the outputs are made available to NHS Boards to confirm as accurate. Communication with NHS Boards over this period allows us to confirm or update any of these data ahead of release to the public.

The above quality assurance processes results in accurate information being released as part of the NHSScotland Workforce publication. Therefore it is unlikely that any significant issues with the data quality would arise after publication. 


For Information Governance reasons, these data have not been through the same processing as the staff in post data derived from SWISS. Therefore, the staff included in these data might be slightly different compared with the staff in post data. For example, any doctors in training will be included in the Board as recorded in SWISS (Board of Employment).