COVID-19 peak results in record high NHS sickness absence
The NHS lost a staggering 2.3 million full-time equivalent days of work from a total of nearly 36.6 million in April 2020, the highest level in a decade. By comparison, the NHS lost 1.4 million full-time equivalent days out of nearly 35 million in the same month last year.
According to data released by NHS Digital, more than one in 20 NHS staff days were lost to sickness in England in April, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak. The figures show that the monthly sickness rate hit 6.2% in April 2020, up from 5.4% the month before — the highest level recorded since data started to be collected back in April 2009.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, London was the worst-hit region, where the sickness rate increased to 7.2%. In January, the sickness rate in London was 4%, a time when the capital actually had the lowest sickness rate of any English region.
At the other end of the scale was South-west England, which reported a sickness rate of 4.5%, making it the only region in the country not to witness a record high since April 2009.
In terms of the NHS areas hit the hardest, ambulance trusts recorded the highest rates of sickness absence: 7.3%. It should be noted though that even before the coronavirus pandemic, nine in 10 ambulance staff had experienced stress or poor mental health.
The next worst-hit NHS area was those working for acute trusts, which provide services such as A&E departments, which had a sickness absence rate of 6.5%.
Miriam Deakin, Director of Policy and Strategy at NHS Providers, said: “The percentage of NHS staff who were absent from work in April was 6.2% nationally.
“However, there was some variation by region and between trusts. This correlates with those areas facing the biggest peaks of the pandemic, such as in London…
“These figures demonstrate just how committed staff have been to taking care of people as well as trusts’ commitment to creating safe environments for their staff and patients in difficult circumstances.”
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the NHS in June found that 93% of NHS trust leaders were concerned about staff wellbeing, stress and burnout following the pandemic. To combat these potential health implications, many trusts are setting up a range of services, such as relaxation and wellbeing hubs, as well as safe spaces for staff to spend some time reflecting and accessing emotional support if they need it.
It’s easy to forget the impact that Covid-19 has had on NHS personnel, who have been at the front line throughout, and I’m amazed the figures are not higher!
Hats off to the NHS for maintaining service throughout such challenging times. It’s often been thought that the NHS and Private Sector work completely separately, but that’s simply not true, there is a reliance on each other to maintain treatment and care programmes and this has never been more true.