Staff at Lister Hospital in Stevenage and New QEII in Welwyn Garden City taking more and more sick days due to stress

PUBLISHED: 06:58 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:00 11 November 2019

Rates of missed work related to stress have increased in East and North Herts NHS Trust. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Rates of missed work related to stress have increased in East and North Herts NHS Trust. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

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Staff at Stevenage's Lister Hospital and Welwyn Garden City's New QEII are taking more and more sick days due to stress.

Data obtained under a freedom of information request by Welwyn Hatfield Labour parliamentary candidate Rosie Newbigging found that levels of stress-related sick leave have increased by a quarter from 2016 to 2018.

In total, 20.25 per cent of all sick leave by Lister and New QEII staff is down to stress - but this appears to be lower than the national average estimates by English employers' organisation NHS Employers.

It claimed in January that 30 per cent of sickness absence in the NHS was down to stress - costing the service £300-400 million per year.

The data also cites a 2017 NHS survey that found over 38 per cent (36 per cent in 2016) of NHS staff reported that they had suffered from work-related stress.

The East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust has responded to the increase in hospital stress level by saying it "recognises the challenges facing all those in healthcare, the importance of managing stress in the workplace and the impact it can have on the individual and an organisation".

"We are constantly monitoring the wellbeing of all our staff across the trust and have processes and procedures in place to respond effectively through our Health at Work service," a spokesman said.

But what is the cause of this stress in our NHS? Rosie Newbigging, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Welwyn Hatfield, believes it is down to the Conservative under-funding of the health service.

She said: "[The figures] show the effect of ending bursaries for nurses' training, years of pay freezes and creeping privatisation

"Again and again I hear on the doorstep Welwyn Hatfield residents' heart-breaking stories of long waits for treatment, routine operations postponed or cancelled, and elderly people spending hours waiting for an ambulance or on trolleys in A&E. That's why I used a [FOI] request to find out what exactly is happening locally."

Conservative Welwyn Hatfield parliamentary candidate Grant Shapps, who is also transport secretary, dismisses this idea.

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"It's absolutely right to support our precious NHS workers and every support must be given to ensure that they are able to work without undue stress and pressure," he said.

"Labour's parliamentary candidate also wrongly asserts that the problem is caused by under-funding of the National Health Service.

"This is untrue. We are investing a record £34bn more money into the NHS. And the number of doctors and nurses have both risen dramatically since 2010."

He also cited the UK's independent fact-checking charity Full Fact's finding that agrees staffing has gone up for doctors by headcount. However, Full Fact says the full-time amount of GPs, which gives a better idea of staffing levels, is falling.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes real term money has increased, but more is needed to allow the NHS to "help stem further decline in the health service".

It believes a four per cent per year increase is needed to meet the NHS' needs and see any improvement of its services.

Both the largest public sector's union UNISON, which is linked to the Labour Party, and the British Medical Association (BMA) have recently expressed concerns about stress levels due to low pay and little staff.

Ms Newbigging also asked, during the FOI, about whether trade union negotiations had taken place with Lister and the New QEII staff on the proposal to close the Urgent Care Centre at night.

"Informal consultation has taken place with both staff and trade unions regarding the proposal to close the UCC overnight," the East and North Herts NHS Trust confirmed. "Staff were also strongly encouraged to participate in the public consultation exercise and copies of the survey were provided to all staff members."

The NHS trust says it is still awaiting the final decision, which was expected in October but has since been delayed by the East and North Herts NHS Clinical Commissioning Group until March 2020.

It was also found during 2018/19 that 16 per cent of the attendances at the Lister Hospital's Accident and Emergency department were registered as coming from Welwyn Hatfield area postcodes AL6, AL7, AL8, AL9 and AL10.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it could not comment on the causes of stress within the NHS during the election period due to purdah.

- If you need someone to talk to you can call Samaritans for free at any time, 24 hours a day and from any phone, on 116 123.

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