Extra 6,000 sick days taken by Norfolk County Council staff spark concerns

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

Workers at Norfolk County Council took an extra 6,000 days off sick last year, new figures have revealed, prompting concern over the welfare of staff.

Mental health was the biggest cause of long-term absence.

Council leader Andrew Proctor said the figures "gave rise to concern".

But he said the council had trained up more than 300 managers in mental health first aid.

Figures showed that the number of total sick days across the authority in 2018/19 went up by 6,100 days to 47,369 days - a surge of 16pc.

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The percentage of lost time to sickness was 3.95pc, an average of just over nine days per full time worker, and above the council's 3.5pc target.

Long-term sickness accounted for the bulk of the increase - more than 5,000 days, which was up 19pc on the previous 12 months.

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And mental health remained the biggest cause of absence, accounting for nearly half of the long-term sick days and 37pc (165) of those absent workers.

The council, which employes around 6,000 people, also struggled to retain newly starting staff.

Figures from May showed just 56.2pc of new recruits had stayed longer than two years.

Although the average retention rate is 66pc, which the council says is comparable with national benchmarks, both figures are well below County Hall's 80pc target.

Dr Marie Strong, Liberal Democrat councillor for Wells, highlighted the statistics at a meeting this week, in which she asked for an urgent review of the council's workforce strategy.

Conservative leader Mr Proctor said: "The figures as stated do give rise to concern. In terms of sickness, it's not just the percentage, but why people are off sick and the long term picture as well.

"I would agree that the welfare of our colleagues working for the council is our highest priority to enable us to serve our communities well."

He said the council had a health, safety and wellbeing strategy and a workforce strategy.

He added the sickness rate remained below the average reported by large organisations.

But he said: "We have trained over 300 managers in mental health first aid and have run a range of awareness campaigns supporting individuals to speak up. This positive action could increase reporting."

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