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Staff sickness rate at Norfolk hospital falls during pandemic, bucking national trend

PUBLISHED: 08:04 29 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:41 29 August 2020

Accident & Emergency Department entrance at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Photo: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Accident & Emergency Department entrance at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Photo: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

The sickness absence rate among staff at Norfolk’s largest hospital fell at the start of lockdown, figures show, despite illness rising elsewhere in the NHS.

New data showed 2.3 million full-time working days were lost due to sickness across the health service in April – the most in more than a decade.

In Norfolk, the county’s three hospitals experienced the peak of coronavirus in April.

NHS Providers said there was a connection between sickness absence by region and trusts and the areas facing the biggest peaks of the coronavirus outbreak.

But, at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, some 4.48pc of staff were recorded absences in April, below the East of England average of 6.3pc and national average of 6.2pc.

The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston. Picture: Denise BradleyThe James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston. Picture: Denise Bradley

The rate of sickness has continued to fall between May and July at the hospital, falling to 3.58pc, with the inclusion of coronavirus absences.

Ashley Judd, NNUH deputy director of workforce, said: “The team spirit within individual teams supports the ethic of ‘absence can make a colleague work harder’.

“Also, as much as we admire the dedication and commitment of our staff, we have encouraged them to take breaks during their shifts and use annual leave to rest and recuperate.

“The professionalism, dedication and commitment of all our staff shines through, particularly so during this pandemic – which is epitomised by the exceptionally low sickness rates – as does the desire to serve our community.”

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUHThe Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUH

Elsewhere in the county, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in King’s Lynn, reported the highest sickness rate of 8.59pc and the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH), in Gorleston, saw 8pc of staff off in April.

The impact of coronavirus sickness is reflected in the data, with the QEH absence rate standing at 5.15pc with Covid-19 sickness excluded.

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The hospital has seen further reductions in sickness rates fall through May to July, with 5.41pc of staff off in July.

Anthony McCourt interim director of HR at the QEH, said: “During this time some staff were affected by Covid-19, increasing our overall sickness rates, consistent with the wider NHS. We have since seen a reduction in Covid-19 related and overall sickness.

“We have robust plans in place to further reduce our overall sickness levels, including via our strengthened health and wellbeing programme for staff.”

The JPUH, which has 4,000 staff, said in April staff sickness was in relation to long term health conditions, self-isolation, staff that contracted the virus or shielding.

Graeme Armitage, executive lead for workforce, said: “A lot of planning went in to ensure services were covered and managed, with our staff stepping up to all the challenges they faced by being flexible and understanding.

“Everyone has worked incredibly hard and, while sickness absences have returned to nearer normal levels in recent months, we know this could have longer term effects as we face what may be one of our busiest winters. We are working to ensure staff have the support they need and can access help if they wish to.

“We constantly monitor sickness absence, as well as the reasons for this, so appropriate measures can be put in place to ensure staff wellbeing and continuous patient care.”

The absence rate across the East of England was 6.3pc in April – the fourth highest of NHS England’s seven regions.

In the NHS data, coronavirus is not listed as a reason for sickness absence, but its most common symptoms – a high temperature, new continuous cough and a loss or change in sense of taste or smell – are similar to some of the symptoms of flu.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “Looking ahead, we must not underestimate the lasting impact working during Covid-19 will have on NHS staff.

“Trusts are doing all they can to support staff, including setting up a range of services such as relaxation and well-being hubs and safe spaces.

“Additional support for staff will be a long-term requirement, as evidence suggests that staff are more likely to present much later, around two-and-a-half to seven years after experiencing trauma.

“We will need to continue to track the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce to get a good understanding of the impact Covid-19 has had for years to come.”


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