Stress leave for Hospital staff up by 50 per cent

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Last year 16,419 days were taken off due to illness by hospital workers compared to 14,391 in 2016 and 14,186 in 2015.

The number of sick days relating to anxiety, stress and depression increased from 2,033 to 3,105 over the three-year period, while cases of muscular and skeletal illness, such as a bad back, increased from 3,859 to 4,905.

The Jersey Nursing Union claimed that low morale in the Hospital was contributing to the trend, while the Health Department said that it was working with staff to tackle issues with absenteeism.

The figures, released under a Freedom of Information request, fly in the face of an announcement made by the Health Department in 2016 that it intended to tighten up its absence management policies to tackle the number of staff taking sick days.

The JEP had previously reported that in 2015 health workers took on average 10.6 days off work, which was the highest number for any States department.

Terry Hanby, of the Jersey Nursing Association which is a branch of Unite, said that recent States policies had damaged morale among Hospital staff.

‘There is increased pressure because of unfulfilled vacancies and people are feeling quite depressed,’ he said.

‘There’s quite a few disciplinaries ongoing and there is this new absence management policy they have introduced. Staff see all these changes going on in the States and are reading things about what is going to happen to them in the future in the press.

‘It all adds up to uncertainty, which they are already feeling with the workforce modernisation programme. It seems that bureaucracy has taken over rather than dealing with staff on a human level.

‘There’s a lot of older people in the department and staff are saying things like: “How long is it until you retire?” That’s not good.’

He added: ‘I can’t say for certain that all this has had an effect [on the absenteesim figures] but I would surmise that it has had a significant bearing.’

A Health spokesman said that the department is continuing to work with staff and unions to ‘identify and alleviate’ the causes of staff sickness.

‘Bespoke work has already taken place in a number of areas, including mental health first aid, separate initiatives for physiotherapists, midwives and occupational therapists, plus trauma-risk management training to support staff involved in stressful incidents,’ he said.

He added that absenteeism due to illness is always higher among healthcare staff, compared to other sectors.

‘This is seen in the UK and other European countries, not just in Jersey,’ he said.

‘The UK National Audit Office reports each year and identifies that sickness absence in the healthcare sector is consistently the highest of all sectors – public or private – and notes valid reasons for this finding. Healthcare staff are exposed to more infections and diseases than any other workers and frequently encounter distressing and emotional situations.

‘Musculo-skeletal injuries and stress are always prevalent in the healthcare industry and it is important to note that in many cases stress is not solely related to work issues but can be a result of several factors in people’s lives.

‘Finally, it is imperative that our staff do not put patients at risk by coming to work with an infection or illness that could affect patients.’

Between 2015 and 2017 the staff headcount in the Hospital increased only modestly – from 1,679 to 1,688.

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