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Concerns over surge in Welsh NHS staff taking time off because of stress

THE number of NHS staff taking time off work due to stress has surged in health boards across Wales in the past three years.

BMA Wales described the jump in stress-related illness as “extremely worrying” and Unison warned that pressure on staff is intensifying as positions go unfilled.

Hywel Dda Local Health Board had the largest increase in the proportion of staff going absent due to stress. In 2010-11 604 staff took leave, up from 432 in 2008-09.

At Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board over the same period the number of absences rose from 785 to 1,051.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board saw the figure for anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses climb from 725 to 900, while at Aneurin Bevan there was an increase from 874 in 2008-09 to 1,000 in 2010-11.

Powys bucked the trend with the number of episodes of staff taking time off due to stress dropping from 233 in 2008-09 to 149 in 2010-11.

Two health boards provided percentage figures in response to the request for information by Conservative Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar.

Cwm Taf Health Board saw a rise from 0.98% to 1.41% in staff taking sick leave due to stress and psychiatric illnesses.

But Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board witnessed a fall in the percentage of staff on sick leave who had a stress-related illness, down from 9.54% in 2008-09 to 9.37% in 2010-11.

Mr Millar said: “The NHS in Wales is currently under considerable pressure and these figures could be viewed as a worrying reflection of the many burdens placed on health board staff. In this coming financial year alone, Labour is cutting over £80m from the health budget. This at a time when waiting list targets are not being met, vacancies are not being filled and cancelled operations are on the rise. I am more than confident that staff in every health board work exceptionally hard to provide a first-class service for Welsh patients.

“It is Labour’s sloppy approach and refusal to prioritise the health budget that is making their jobs far harder.”

David Galligan, Unison’s Welsh head of health, said: “The reality is working for the NHS at the moment is going to be quite stressful. If you don’t fill a vacancy then staff are working short-staffed.”

Last week, experts told how Welsh neonatal services are “awful” and in a “very high-risk” state as a result of critical staff and cot shortages.

And Prime Minister David Cameron cited Wales as an example of where Labour had left the NHS unreformed and underfunded.

Dr David Bailey, Deputy Chair of the BMA in Wales, voiced alarm, saying: “These are extremely worrying figures

and clearly demonstrate the pressures faced by doctors and other health workers in Wales. The practice of medicine is inherently stressful, therefore having a pleasant working environment, adequate staffing levels and adequate resources are essential to delivering high quality services and care to patients.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths said: “Ensuring the health and welfare of NHS staff is of paramount importance to the Welsh Government and thanks to our investment, there are now more health professionals working in the NHS. NHS organisations have invested in Occupational Health programmes to support well-being of the workforce by, for example, responding proactively to violence and aggression – all designed to help to reduce stress levels.

“We already know that when it comes to the Welsh NHS, doctors in Wales would much prefer to work in here than in England – and who can blame then.

“The calamitous health reforms being forced through by the Tories in England, on top of mass redundancies caused by cuts, will obviously have an impact on stress levels amongst staff there.

“Mercifully in Wales, our NHS staff will not be confronted with that kind of Tory dogma".

Source: Wales online

Feb 13