Workers signed off with stress have cost NHS Tayside 1.3m working hours

Bob McGlashan.
Bob McGlashan.

NHS workers in Tayside are being signed off from work with stress due to a “constant feeling they are failing patients” and falling staff numbers, a union has claimed.

Figures published by NHS Tayside under freedom of information laws show that 33 years of work time was lost to stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions in 2018/19.

In all, 1.3 million hours of work time – 150 years – has been lost due to workers being signed off for stress in the last five years. The amount taken off has risen by 16% since 2014.

Trade union the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has suggested that a dwindling workforce could be partly to blame.

The total workforce in Tayside has shrunk by 4.4% in the period from April 2014 to March 2019 – with above-average losses in nursing and midwifery staff.

Bob McGlashan, senior RCN officer for Tayside, said: “The pressures on nurses and health care support workers are huge.

“Demand for services is rocketing and the number of nursing staff in our NHS is just not keeping pace with the number of patients they’re expected to care for. Every day nurses and health care support workers go onto their shift wanting to deliver safe, high quality care to patients, but staffing shortages mean that they often struggle to provide the care they want to.

“The personal and professional toll of constantly feeling like you are failing your patients is enormous and must not be underestimated. It is essential that NHS Tayside has a fully resourced occupational health team to provide early support for staff who are too stressed due to work.”

Mr McGlashan believes having “the right number” of staff in “the right place” would make a “real difference”.

He added: “The bottom line is that more nurses are needed if safe staffing is going to be a reality in Scotland.”

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Dundee-based North East Labour MSP Jenny Marra said: “It is extremely worrying that so many staff are suffering from stress in our NHS and so many working hours are being lost due to these pressures.

“The new management at NHS Tayside will need to address this urgently.”

NHS Tayside insists it is “absolutely committed” to what it called a “positive staff experience”.

Jennt Marra.

However, in the last year the Tele has reported on claims by whistleblowers that junior staff have been put in charge of wards and given responsibilities above their station.

George Doherty, Tayside’s director of workforce, said: “We recognise that having a healthy and effective workforce is key to delivering high quality healthcare.

Mr Doherty added that “effective rostering” was used to ensure staff are where they need to be when required.

“Our staff turnover rate reflects a range of factors, including a higher workforce age profile amongst those staff working in some of NHS Tayside’s services,” he said.

“As a consequence, we actively recruit to all nursing vacancies and we have opened up the opportunity for all registered nurses, midwives and healthcare support workers to join the NHS Tayside Nurse Bank to support our capacity, promote the ongoing delivery of care by our own experienced staff, and reduce our use of external agencies.”

The Scottish Government said Tayside staffing levels had risen by 3% in under the majority SNP government formed in 2011.

However, this discounts the latest drop in headcount, which peaked at the end of 2014.

A spokesman said: “The welfare of NHS staff is critically important. Every health board is required to have policies in place that comply with best practice on managing health at work, including mental health and wellbeing.”