STRESSED OUT workers at NHS Lothian missed more than 17,000 days due to depression and anxiety-related illnesses last year as absences rose by almost a quarter to record levels, according to new figures.
Nursing and midwifery staff accounted for more than half the time lost, missing more than 223,000 hours.
The figures have prompted calls for an in-house counselling service to be “extended” to meet growing demand.
The findings, made available through freedom of information legislation, found under-pressure staff missed more than 400,000 hours – the equivalent of 47 years – of work in the period between 2016 and 2017; a 24 per cent rise on the previous 12 months.
It means stress and anxiety-related illnesses are now the largest cause of staff absences at the health board, accounting for more than one per cent of all days missed over the last year.
Union chiefs are now hoping the report will force the health authority to expand a counselling service offered to staff.
Unison Lothian health chairman Tam Waterson said: “These figures are extremely concerning from a Unison perspective and representative of a staffing shortage and the increased workload placed on NHS staff.
“I think it is the same across a number of jobs, but the NHS in particular, we used to have the winter bed crisis, now we have a crisis year round.
“NHS Lothian does offer an in-house counselling service that has had glowing reviews from all of those who have used it, but it’s clear that needs to be extended to help with the increase in demand from staff.”
Absences attributed to stress totalled 11,486 days in 2013-14, before rising slightly to around 11,600 a year later.
However, that figure shot up to more than 14,000 in 2015-16, before rising again this year.
Administrative service staff missed around 78,000 hours – 3216 days – in the last 12 months while support services accounted for 53,051 hours – 2210 days – missing due to stress.
By comparison, senior management missed just 210 hours, fewer than ten days, with anxiety-related issues.
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Anas Sarwar MSP said: “These are deeply troubling figures that once again reveal the extent of the SNP’s mismanagement of our NHS.
“SNP ministers have presided over a staffing crisis in our health service, leaving staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.”
In total, staff absences accounted for around 5 per cent of the available hours for NHS staff, with back problems, muscular injuries and bone fractures also requiring workers to take time off.
Janis Butler, interim director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said staff were becoming “more comfortable” in confronting stress-related illness.
“Absences related to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses are due to a mix of work and non-work related circumstances,” she said.
“The wellbeing of our staff is crucial in maintaining an effective and healthy workforce.
“Our staff are more comfortable than in the past at reporting stress and mental health problems and we have a range of policies, procedures and services in place to support staff.
“These include our confidential staff counselling service, which is highly regarded.”