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Health / NHS absence figures improve in isles as national picture worsens

SHETLAND is bucking a national trend that has seen a rise in NHS staff absences owing to illness.

According to figures “revealed” by the Liberal Democrats, “anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses” are the number one cause of staff absences in the NHS.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said “it does not take a brain surgeon to recognise that Scottish NHS staff are overworked and in need of a break.”

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole- Hamilton – . Photo – Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

According to the Lib Dems, there have been over 45 million hours of staff absence since 2016, with staff mental health issues cited as the number one cause.

A freedom of information request submitted by the party to health boards revealed that since 2016, 45,066,655 hours of staff time have been lost to illness. Time lost annually rose from 11.6m hours in 2016 to 13.7m hours in 2018.

In “almost every health board” the number one reason for absence was listed as “anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses.”

But according to NHS Shetland the annual absence rate in the isles fell from 5.2 per cent in 2016 to 3.68 per cent on 31 October 2019.

HR services manager Lorraine Allinson said NHS Shetland acknowledged that “anxiety, stress, depression, other psychiatric illness” is cited as one of the main reasons for hours lost to sickness absence.

She added: “However, we would like to highlight that despite increasing demands and resource challenges, the trend shows a reduction in hours lost, which is in keeping with an improvement in overall sickness absence rate in the last four to five years.”

According to Allison the data does not distinguish between personal or work related concerns.

She added: “NHS Shetland provides local occupational health support through a self or management referral process.

“Health and Safety Executive (H&SE) guidance is used to manage concerns relating to work-related stress. Reasonable adjustments are supported to maintain staff in the workplace and/or support a successful return to work.

“Absence rates fluctuate monthly, data is monitored and trend information reported regularly via the Area Partnership Forum and the Staff Governance Committee to ensure oversight by the executive team and the board.”

Cole-Hamilton said that, nationally, the figures “reveal the toll that mental ill health is having on the very staff who have dedicated their careers to looking after others.”

He added: “The fact that the number one reason for staff absence is mental health conditions should make the Scottish Government pause and think again.

“The SNP’s waiting time improvement plan has been a total failure. It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that you will not improve performance when staff are forced to work in pressure cooker conditions shift after shift.

“The SNP cannot continue to rely on the goodwill of hardworking doctors and nurses. They must make sure that every shift is properly staffed so that NHS staff can get on with the job they are so desperate to do.”