Hundreds of staff employed by a major NHS group in Greater Manchester are off work every day due to sickness – but Covid-related absences are falling.
Approximately 1,200 staff at the Northern Care Alliance (NCA) – which runs Salford Royal, the Royal Oldham, Rochdale Infirmary and Fairfield General hospitals as well as other health care services in these areas – are off each day.
This accounts for around 6.32 pc of the total workforce employed by the organisation which is slightly below the Greater Manchester average of 7 pc.
Particular concerns have been raised about Oldham and Salford – but health bosses say similar absence levels are being reported across the North West.
Dr Chris Brookes, who is the NCA’s interim chief executive officer, told the board at a meeting on Monday (October 25) of the ‘extraordinary challenges’ NHS staff are facing with ‘pressures akin to winter pressures all year round’.
He described the sickness absence level as a ‘major concern’, highlighting that Covid-related absences have not been rising, but wellbeing scores have fallen.
The NCA’s chief of people Nicky Clarke explained why so many staff are off.
She said: “It’s perhaps not surprising that we have increasing numbers of staff off with stress and anxiety – sometimes from a work point of view, sometimes from other matters outside work, and a number of those as a result of the pandemic.
“Certainly across the North West, absence levels are similar across most providers. It’s a problem across the NHS.”
Speaking after the board meeting, an NCA spokesperson said the current absence level is not significantly higher than the rate over the last two years.
The main reasons for staff absence at the moment are coughs and colds, stress and anxiety and musculoskeletal injuries, according to the NCA.
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Programmes are in place to support staff, encouraging them to look after themselves and enhance their health and wellbeing, the spokesperson said.
Clarke told the board that managers are trying to encourage them back to work and the NCA is looking at more flexible options to phase staff back in.
The organisation is also reviewing its plans for reduced workforce levels, updating its guidance given to staff during previous waves of the pandemic.
But chief delivery officer Jude Adams said there is more work to do as the NCA prepares for the pressures of the winter with a weakened workforce.
She said: “We know that our sickness absence rates are not where we want them to be and there is a risk as we move into the winter period that people succumb to viral illness in the same way that patients do and therefore we’ve got more work to do at care organisation level in looking at the business continuity plans for workforce numbers.”
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