Stressed hospital staff take 22,000 sick days, costing Hull And East Yorkshire trust £8.5m
STRESSED-OUT hospital staff called in sick thousands of times in just 12 months.
As the NHS comes under increasing pressure and cutbacks continue, anxiety and stress has been blamed for almost 22,000 days lost to sickness at the region's main hospitals.
Hull And East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham, said £8.5m was paid to staff off sick from October last year to September this year.
Ray Gray, regional officer for Unison, said he fears staff are being stretched to the limit.
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He said: "This is graphic evidence of the pressure the NHS is under because of the Government policies to save money and the trust's attempts to implement those policies.
"It shows the pressure the staff are under when they are trying to do their job on the wards.
"However the staff feel, they try to give the best service they possibly can.
"The NHS was always seen as a safe place to be and had a long-term future for people to work in to.
"That's now gone and that creates stress and anxiety. It's very sad when it reaches these levels and morale is at rock bottom."
Hospital officials said although the figure for the number of days lost to sickness appears high at almost 22,000, the total number of possible working days is more than two million.
Sick nursing and midwifery staff were paid £4.4m during the period and the group accounts for 52 per cent of the sickness cost in "staff groups".
Gastrointestinal problems, which relate to the stomach and intestines, were also high on the list for sickness reasons, with more than 1,800 cases among staff across the trust.
The trust is under pressure to make £99m in efficiency savings by 2018.
Staff wages cost more than £360m each year, while the overall annual trust budget is £480m.
According to figures revealed in the trust's board papers, the £8.5m does not include "variable" pay to cover staff sickness, which means extra pay for overtime, as well as agency and bank staff.
Officials said the estimated cost of sickness if variable pay was included would rise to about £11m.
Jayne Adamson, chief of workforce and organisational development at the trust, said staff absence is taken "very seriously" and the trust is committed to reducing the days lost to sickness.
She said: "When compared with other trusts in our region, our figures for staff attendance compare very favourably.
"Our figures for stress absence relate to stress outside of work, as well as inside work, and we take our responsibilities to our staff seriously in helping them to cope with stresses outside of the working environment.
"Each year, we conduct a stress survey, which enables us to act on expert health and safety executive advice on managing stress, and this informs our annual plan for reducing stress-related sickness."
Mrs Adamson said work has been done on staff engagement throughout this year.
She said: "We know some staff sickness is caused by disempowerment at work and, over the past six months, we have worked extremely hard to engage with our staff and ensure they are included in some of the big decisions taken around changes to our services.
"We are looking at tackling many of the everyday frustrations which can result in staff sickness and we hope over time these will have an effect on absence."
Mrs Adamson said the trust is also offering staff a free flu vaccination to help tackle sickness.
Last year, more than 70 per cent of staff took up the offer, which reduced the number of sick days lost to flu from 1,913 in 2010 to 414 this year.