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Staff 'at breaking point' as NHS sickness toll mounts

By Victoria O'Hara

Sickness levels within our ailing health service have cost the economy £50m in the space of six months, new figures have revealed.

At the end of August, 2,234 full-time staff across the financially stretched Department of Health were on sick leave.

Figures given to the Belfast Telegraph show that absences due to sickness between April and September amounted to up to 5% of the total staff pay bill.

There are more than 70,000 employees in the crisis-hit Department of Health, which is facing savage austerity cuts.

Union Unite represents around 4,000 health workers and says the current figures demonstrate clearly that the crisis shows the biggest asset of the NHS - the staff - are at breaking point.

As of the end of August, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust had the highest level with 693 full-time members of staff sick.

The figures also showed the rates for other trusts to be: Western Health and Social Care Trust - 473; Northern Health Social Care Trust - 405; Southern Health and Social Care Trust - 230, and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust- 228.

A response to an Assembly question showed that by September, 92 nurses and midwives were sick at the Ulster Hospital.

Within the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, there were 445 staff absent through illness.

The Royal College of Nursing has described the failure to address increasing sickness absence as "an indictment" on the management of health and social care in Northern Ireland.

The five trusts have all said they monitor the situation closely and addressing the problem is a "priority".

Kevin McAdam from Unite said the problem will grow with the pending cuts.

"What our staff are saying is they are working so hard it is not surprising people are coming out sick," he said.

"The latest budget is only going to increase that sickness. The term 'the service is in crisis' couldn't be more appropriate at this stage, and the biggest crisis is the biggest asset of the service, the staff, the people are just at breaking point."

A spokesman for the DHSSPS said: "For the first six months of the financial year (April-Sept 14) total staff sick absence (including both full-time and part-time staff) during this period equates to an estimated cost of £50m, which would represent around 4-5% of the total staff pay bill.

"Trusts recognise the significant cost associated with sickness absence.

"The minister supports their continuous efforts to drive sickness levels down but recognises that HSC front line employees deal with infectious/sick and vulnerable patients and it would therefore be reasonable that these employees exhibit higher levels of sickness absence than other sectors."

A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said: "The trust views the management of sickness absence as a priority, and has developed a range of initiatives to support and improve the health and wellbeing of employees."

Case study

"The workload was getting so great there were more and more demands for you to do night shifts. The atmosphere last year was horrendous. The physical workload, patients backlogging in the department and the number of patients coming into the department was colossal - they for me are among the main reasons staff are either taking sick leave or wanting to leave altogether. Nurses want to give their best for the patient but it got to the point where I had to take leave and take time off. Going back was hard. I can see more and more staff taking sickness leave as it is getting too much. Mental wellbeing is a big issue and nurses are really doing their best but need more support."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph