Huge toll of Covid-19 on Lancashire's health workers
Soaring absentee levels of sick and isolating employees
Coronavirus caused staff at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust to miss almost 10,000 days of work last year.
The British Medical Association say the figures – which show millions of days were lost nationally – demonstrate how the pandemic has affected a health service that was "woefully" short on staff before it even began.
NHS Digital data shows the equivalent of 124,161 full-time staff days were lost due to sickness at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust between March and December.
Almost a tenth of these (9,992) were because of Covid-19, with staff worst affected towards the end of the year.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust staff were absent for 2,091 days because of coronavirus in November, but were least impacted in September – losing 308 days.
Around 2.5m days were lost in the NHS across England due to the virus, giving an overall sickness absence rate of 4.7 per cent between March and December.
During the pandemic Lancashire Teaching Hospitals expanded its psychological support service for staff, providing access to a range of health and wellbeing resources, support sessions for redeployed staff, bespoke mindfulness courses and created leadership support circles among other support initiatives.
A spokesman for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said: “Over the course of the past year we have been humbled by the colossal efforts our colleagues have put in during this uniquely difficult period.
“Their dedication and commitment has been nothing short of remarkable, ensuring patients receive the level of care they deserve. Nothing is more important to us than the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and we continue to invest in initiatives to support them with their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing including psychological advice phone-lines and new rest and relaxation facilities.”
Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the BMA, said: “We know the NHS went into the pandemic woefully short on staff and these worrying figures highlight how Covid-19 has made a severe workforce shortage even more desperate.
“Covid-related staff absences coupled with the significant negative impact on NHS staff mental health and wellbeing during the last year have meant more staff needing to take time off work, threatening the NHS’s very ability to provide essential services."
According to the figures, more than half a million days were lost across England due to stress, anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses in December – the highest of any month since the pandemic started.
Dr Wrigley said the wellbeing of "exhausted" NHS staff is paramount as they face the biggest backlog of care in history, or else he fears many will reduce their hours, retire early or leave the health service entirely.
NHS Providers, the membership organisation for trusts in England, said coronavirus and the usual winter pressure had a huge impact on staff, with hospitals still having to deal with the knock-on effects.
Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the "remarkable" work of the NHS during this challenging period must not be taken for granted, and called for long-term support.
She added: “We urge the Government to ensure the NHS has the right levels of staff to build flexibility into the system by providing a fully costed and funded national workforce plan.
"This will help to relieve the pressure on staff, making it easier to cover sickness absences, while ensuring a manageable workload and a better work-life balance."
The NHS figures also show that support staff to doctors, nurses and midwives at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust were absent most often.
Between March and December, they were sick on a combined 43,637 days – 35 per cent of all staff absences.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it is investing £89bn to support the "record number" of NHS staff working in England, and to help address patient backlogs.
A spokesman added: “We recognise the enormous pressure this pandemic has put on our heroic NHS and social care staff and we are funding dedicated mental health support, including a 24/7 helpline, to provide help to those who need it."