Over 8,000 nursery staff absent due to mental health issues, figures show

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More than 8,000 nursery and childcare staff have been absent as a result of mental health issues over the past five years, figures from the Scottish Conservatives claim.

Freedom of information requests submitted to all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities showed that absences caused by stress among early years staff has increased by 53% in the last five years.

Between 2018-2019 and 2022-2023, 8,076 staff were absent due to stress of poor mental health, from 1,159 in 2018-19 to 1,779 in 2022-23.

The party say the figure is likely to be higher as three councils did not respond to requests and four did not produce figures for 2022/23.

Additionally, freedom of information does not apply to private sector nurseries and early education establishments.

Scottish Conservative Party conference 2023
Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Meghan Gallacher MSP called on the Scottish Government to give the early education sector the support they need. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The proportion of funded childcare places in partner settings was higher than the share of the budget used to pay for them, the organisation said in 2022.

Independent nurseries make up a third of childcare providers whilst getting just a fifth of funding. It has been revealed that independent nurseries make up a third of providers for 1,140 hours’ free childcare despite only receiving a fifth of the funding, a freedom of information request by the NDNA revealed.

Meghan Gallacher MSP, Scottish Conservative deputy leader and shadow minister for children and young people, urged the government to give staff the support that they need.

“These alarming figures point to a mental health crisis among early years and childcare staff under the SNP,” she said.

“The rapidly rising number of stress-related absences is very worrying but also grimly predictable given the SNP’s transparent and unacceptable neglect of Scotland’s childcare sector.

“The invaluable work of early years staff and childcare providers is transformative in allowing new parents – like myself – to return to work, boosting our economy and benefiting young families.

“It’s a crying shame that our childcare providers are so underfunded and demoralised. It’s little wonder that we are seeing so many off sick due to stress in these circumstances.

“Humza Yousaf cannot continue to short-change Scotland’s childcare sector, especially when he wants to expand the provision offered to parents.

“The SNP must urgently up their game to ensure that early years and childcare staff are given the support that they need.”

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