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One in five hospital staff sickness days due to anxiety, stress and depression

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Anxiety, stress and depression are responsible for more than one in five sick days taken by hospital staff.

A report by the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, which runs Pinderfields Pontefract and Dewsbury hospitals, says that almost 21 per cent of sickness absence is due to mental health issues.

Funding cuts, staff shortages and spiralling workloads for frontline staff have been blamed for rising levels of stress in the NHS.

Across staff in all departments at the Trust, one in 20 working days is lost to all types of illness.

Muscle, bone and ligament problems is the second biggest cause of absence, accounting for just over 15 per cent of sick days taken.

Trade union UNISON said that anxiety and depression were getting worse and more frequent within the NHS.

West Yorkshire regional branch secretary Adrian O’Malley said: “Mental health problems among staff is one of the biggest issues we face here.

“With staff shortages being as they are, the figures don’t surprise me at all.

“Patients are coming into the hospital all year round – it’s not just winter pressures that are causing this.

“The NHS is losing a lot of experienced staff through early retirement and it makes the problem a vicious circle really.”

Mr O’Malley said that fitting shift patterns around childcare was a recurring problem for nurses, with unsociable working hours another cause of stress.

He added: “Work-life balance is a big issue. The Trust has actually lost staff to hospitals elsewhere where there is more flexible working and that’s a problem.”

Figures show that sickness is most prevalent among healthcare assistants, who help nurses with day-to-day tasks in hospitals and patients’ homes.

Absence is also high among workers tasked with maintaining the building, such as cleaners and porters.

Between March 2017 and February 2018 the average staff member was off for 5.13 per cent of their working hours. In January this year, the sickness rate reached a high of 5.77 per cent, before sharply declining the following month.

In a bid to tackle the problem, the Trust produced a recovery plan for sickness absence in 2016, which is regularly reviewed and updated.

Angela Wilkinson, director of workforce at the trust  said: “Maintaining employee health and wellbeing is a key focus area at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals and includes support for staff who report stress and anxiety related health issues.

“We have a nationally accredited occupational health service that supports

employees who suffer from mental as well as physical ill health, and a dedicated attendance management team working to support our managers to reduce employee absence.

“In the coming months we will be training two members of our occupational health team, with Mental Health First Aid England, to become mental health first aid instructors. They will then train colleagues at the trust so we can build a network of mental health first aiders.

“We positively recognise all the hard work and effort of everyone who works here by engaging and listening to our staff to ensure that we are making continuous improvements to their health and wellbeing.”