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Health / Stress-related absences among NHS staff increase during pandemic

Gilbert Bain Hospital. Photo: Shetland News

THE NUMBER stress-related absences among NHS Shetland staff rose during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.

Freedom of Information figures show that 254.5 days of stress-related absence were recorded in April.

In February this figure sat at 171.5 days.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson highlighted that there are a number of reasons why staff may be off work with stress-related issues.

But he acknowledged that that the last few months have brought “new challenges” to NHS staff.

The health board has been at the forefront of Shetland’s response to the pandemic, while how health and care is delivered has changed in line with guidance.

The impact on everyday life was also significant during lockdown.

The figures show a gradual increase in the number of days absent for stress-related reasons through 2020, peaking in April before easing back again.

In January 120.5 days were recorded, with February experiencing 171.5.

In March, when the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Shetland, this rose to 223 days.

April’s figure of 254.5 was followed by 219 days in May.

It dropped further in June (183 days) and July (115). Figures for August are not yet available.

The headcount number of staff absent for more than a month due to stress also steadily increased through 2020.

However, the figures include some individuals spanning several months.

In January seven members of staff were signed off for more than a month, but this increased to 12 in February.

By April it had risen to 16, with July reaching 17.

Reacting to the figures, Dickson added that NHS Shetland is generally one of the best performing health boards in relation to low levels of sickness absence.

“There are a lot of reasons why staff may be off work with stress related issues at any given time, and we do our best to support them from an employer perspective,” he said.

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“With regard to an increase in stress related illness during the pandemic, the last few months have certainly brought new challenges to NHS staff, both clinical and non-clinical, as work processes and environments have needed to change rapidly in response.

“We have been acutely aware of that and have introduced a staff wellbeing support line, regular staff check-ins and also promoted the recent national wellbeing resources that have been rolled out across Scotland.”

He said he has been “really proud” of the way staff have responded to the changing requirements resulting from Covid-19.

Dickson also said he understood there is “inevitably some tension as we approach the winter months and the uncertainties about what will happen in terms of Covid cases alongside more typical winter pressures”.

“We will continue to support staff to the best of our abilities to keep them well and safely at work,” he said.

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