‘Record sick leave’ cost Germany billions of euros in 2022

Economists say that a huge spike in colds and flu across the country last year compounded with the current energy and cost of living crisis to hamper German growth by as much as one percent.

Pictured is a person with the flu.
A record number of workers called in sick in Germany in 2022. Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

Germany saw its highest amount of sick leave taken by employees last year since before reunification in 1990, according to a report released this week by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).

IfW’s early calculations indicate that last year’s wave of colds, flus, and Covid-19 likely cost the economy anywhere between 27 and 42 billion euros in 2022.

German companies normally lose around 68 hours per year per employee to sick leave, or just over eight working days. Last year, that jumped to an average of 91 hours per employee – or over 11 working days.

However, there is some cause for optimism. IfW says that, provided 2022 was a blip when it comes to sick leave due to an extraordinarily strong cold and flu season, 2023’s economic forecasts might actually end up turning out a little better than first thought – assuming this year’s sick leave counts return to normal.

That means 2023 economic growth in Germany should be higher than in 2022, in which German GDP grew by 1.8 percent. Without the record sick leave, IfW estimates it would have grown around 2.5 percent, which the country may see in 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany’s new electronic sick note works

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Do doctors in Germany have too little time for their patients?

The average doctor’s appointment in Germany lasts only 7.6 minutes, according to a recent study by Cambridge University.

Do doctors in Germany have too little time for their patients?

It seems that the feeling of being rushed in and out of a doctor’s consultation in Germany is not uncommon.

According to a survey conducted by Infratest dimap on behalf of ARD, millions of Germans are dissatisfied with the limited time they have with their doctors. More than a fifth of the population believes that their doctor did not adequately address their concerns, while among patients under the age of 34, this figure rises to one in three.

This dissatisfaction may be down to the fact that, in Germany, each patient is allocated an average of only 7.6 minutes – significantly less than in other European countries – according to a recent study by Cambridge University. 

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

One of the main factors contributing to this limited time is the bureaucracy involved. The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians’ bureaucracy index for 2020 revealed that bureaucracy consumed 61 working days per year and per practice, equivalent to 24 percent of working time based on 251 working days.

Ferdinand Gerlach, former chairman of the Expert Panel on Health, has been analysing this issue for years and told Tagesschau that Germans visit doctors too frequently and often for inappropriate reasons. The billing system, which incentivises scheduling patients every quarter and allows them to choose any doctor contributes to this problem, he said, because as a result, patients often end up seeing the wrong specialists and receiving unnecessary or inadequate treatment.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has emphasised the importance of giving adequate time to patients, saying that “talking medicine” is not a luxury but rather a necessity for better healthcare.

Stefan Graafen, a general practitioner in Flörsheim, Hesse, told Tagesschau that he sometimes sees more than 50 patients a day and that he wishes he could dedicate more time to his patients. 

But this is made difficult by the additional two hours of bureaucracy he has to handle every day after consultation hours.