Revealed - staff sickness costs hospital almost £5m

Staff sickness is higher than average at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn Photo: Ian Bur

Staff sickness is higher than average at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn Photo: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Staff sickness has cost a Norfolk hospital almost £5m over the last year.

Board members at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn have heard sickness levels across the organisation ran at almost 6pc in October.

Support for staff is being upgraded in a bid to curb absences, at a hospital which ended the last financial year £35m in the red.

Cath Castleton, associate director of human resources at the hospital, said: "Our sickness rate for October 2019 was 5.73pc. Sickness absence has cost the organisation £4.8m over the last year. "We have an extensive programme of work to maximise our support for staff - including looking after their health and wellbeing - so that we can help with work-life balance and where possible help staff to get back to work more quickly after absence, which is better for our patients and their colleagues."

The QEH's sickness rate was 5.09pc in July, compared to a national NHS average of 4.23pc and a figure of 4.03pc for the east of England.

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A report to directors at the QEH said: "Sickness absence remains challenging. Support is being provided for areas with high absence levels and mental health support for staff is a key focus with health and well-being packages being considered as a preventative measure."

Sickness across the health service rose from 3.8pc in April 2018 to 4.1pc in April of this year.

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National data shows anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses account for nearly a quarter of absences.

In a report on sickness levels, health think tank the King's Fund says: "Working on the frontline of the NHS is often a difficult and emotional job, but this level of mental health absence deserves greater focus."

The charity says staff shortages across the organisation are to blame.

"This means that existing staff are increasingly stretching themselves thin to provide care for patients," its report says. "In the 2018 NHS Staff Survey, 56.6pc said they had gone to work when ill, and close to three in five were working extra unpaid hours on a weekly basis." A recruitment drive has seen nursing vacancies at the QEH fall from 198 to 51 - a record low vacancy rate for the hospital of just 5.2pc.

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