THE sickness absence rate among staff at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) hit a record high during lockdown, figures show.

It comes as the latest statistics reveal 2.3 million full-time working days were lost due to sickness across the NHS in April – the most in more than a decade.

NHS Digital data shows that in April the overall staff sickness and absence rate at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust was 8.9 per cent – the highest level since comparable records began in 2013.

By comparison, the rate was 4.7 per cent during the same month last year.

It means 15,502 full-time equivalent days of work across all staff groups in the trust were lost, from a total of 173,983 in April

The figures cover the first full month of lockdown, when people across the country were urged to stay at home to protect the NHS as it came under increased pressure.

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for trusts in England, said a variation in sickness absence by region and trusts correlated with the areas facing the biggest peaks of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The rate across the North West was 6.9 per cent in April – the second highest of NHS England’s seven regions. London had the highest rate at 7.2 per cent, while the South West saw the lowest rate of 4.5 per cent.

Overall, the national NHS staff sickness rate was 6.2 per cent – the highest for any month on record.

David Wilkinson, director of people and organisational development at UHMBT, said: “Sickness absence rates in April 2020 included colleagues who were off sick due to Covid-19, those who were self-isolating due to suspected Covid-19, those who were shielding and other colleagues who were absent for reasons not related to Covid-19.

The combination of these factors led to an unprecedented level of sickness absence within the trust with April being the peak.

In the months since April, while absence levels remain heightened, they are returning to more normal levels."

“The health and wellbeing of our staff is a top priority at our Trust and this has been more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, added: “The figures demonstrate just how committed staff have been to taking care of people as well as trusts’ commitment to creating safe environments for their staff and patients in difficult circumstances.”

Nationally, the most reported reason for sickness absence was anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses, at 20.9%. The second most common reason, chest and respiratory problems, was given for 14.8% of absences.

Covid-19 is not listed as a reason for sickness absence in the data, but the common symptoms of the coronavirus – a high temperature, new continuous cough and a loss or change in sense of taste or smell – are similar to some of the symptoms of flu.

Ms Deakin said an NHS Providers survey found that 93% of NHS trust leaders are concerned about staff well-being, stress and burnout following the pandemic.

She added: “Looking ahead, we must not underestimate the lasting impact working during Covid-19 will have on NHS staff.

“Trusts are doing all they can to support staff, including setting up a range of services such as relaxation and well-being hubs and safe spaces.

“Additional support for staff will be a long-term requirement, as evidence suggests that staff are more likely to present much later, around two-and-a-half to seven years after experiencing trauma.

“We will need to continue to track the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce to get a good understanding of the impact Covid-19 has had for years to come.”