Sick absence figures reveal extent of strains on NHS staff as 45 million hours lost in Scotland alone

Last year, my husband spent 51 days in hospital. He received excellent care from compassionate and skilled staff at what was an absolutely terrifying time for us.

That experience gave us an insight into the strains and stresses that the NHS faces. The most common refrain from staff was that it was so stressful and the Winter hadn’t even started yet.

He spent a just over a month in a medical ward in our local hospital and a further three weeks in a specialist centre in our nearest city. On only one occasion in the whole 51 days did I see staff going home when they were actually supposed to. There were times when I was shocked to see the same members of staff on their 5th or even 6th 12 hour shift in a week. One day I arrived at the hospital in the afternoon to see a health care assistant who had been on night shift the previous night. Because the ward was so under-staffed, she had gone home, slept for a couple of hours and come back in for the busy stretch around lunch and dinner.

During their shifts, the nurses did not stop. They were dealing with multiple stressful situations at a time. They were stretched to the limit.

Obviously a situation like that is not sustainable. It’s going to affect people’s health in some way or another. Alex Cole-Hamilton now has evidence of that.

He revealed that more than 45 million hours have been lost by Scottish NHS boards to staff ill health during the past four years and said the immense pressure staff are under could account for rates rising.

Data obtained from health boards under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the number of hours lost to illness increased from 11.4 million hours in 2014-15 to 13.1 million hours in 2016-17, with the number rising year on year.

Alex said:

The SNP Government has utterly failed to deliver a step change in mental health or provide the right levels of support for our NHS staff. The result is a spiralling bill of health problems.

The tremendous pressure on health workers on shift is spilling over and affecting their quality of life.

A recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing found that 40 per cent of nurses say money worries are making them lose sleep. More than 60% said that last shift they are too busy to deliver the quality of care that they would like.

The Scottish Government’s workforce plan isn’t up to scratch. Hundreds of posts are lying vacant for months on end. Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to cut training places has come back to bite.

SNP ministers have relied on the goodwill of NHS staff for far too long and the impact can be seen in their health. The Scottish Government must ensure that NHS staff get the support and resources they need to deliver the best possible care and that starts with proper workforce planning to ensure they are no longer overworked and overburdened.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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