Organisations trying to improve their employee absence management have been encouraged to consider using health cash plans.

These schemes can cover the cost of various healthcare treatments, from visits to the dentist and opticians to physiotherapy and osteopathy.

In a report highlighting the potential benefits of health cash plans, insurance provider Simplyhealth offered the example of the education sector, which faces typical absence costs of £647 per employee, per year.

When this expense is multiplied by the total number of staff, the financial impact can swiftly escalate into thousands of pounds.

According to Simplyhealth, the average cost of hiring a supply teacher is £300 a day, which is enough to provide health cash plans for five employees for a year.

Hilary Bright, HR director at Norfolk Educational Services, said the organisation has experienced a reduction in the amount of time staff are taking off sick following the introduction of a health plan in 2008.

Combined with other employee absence management tools, the scheme led to a 24 per cent reduction in sick days at City College Norwich.

Howard Hughes, head of employer marketing at Simplyhealth, said it is important for organisations to make a concerted effort to reduce sickness absence, which will deliver cost reductions.

He added: "Health cash plans form part of an overall health and wellbeing programme which can help improve absence rates, and allow businesses to provide proactive solutions for staff to help them to manage their everyday health."

According to research released earlier this month, the proportion of firms reporting high rates of staff sickness is lower in the UK than in Germany and France.

The University of Wolverhampton Business School found that nine per cent of UK companies had high sickness levels in 2009, compared to 17 per cent in 2004.

In Germany, the share of businesses experiencing this problem increased from 17 per cent to 24 per cent between 2004 and 2009, while in France the proportion fell from 29 per cent to 21 per cent in the same period.