East Anglia: Sickness absence levels at ambulance service are the highest in the region

SICKNESS absence rates at East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) are the highest among the region’s health trusts and come amid reports of spiralling morale.

The trust’s illness absence for January-March was 7.13% - far higher than the 4.34% east of England average for the same period.

The figures released by the NHS show EEAST absence rates between 2009-2012 were 6.49%, resulting in 260,761 working days lost to sickness.

Ambulance union chiefs say morale among staff is the lowest its been for more than a decade and have blamed absence levels on increased work pressure.

The trust said cutting sickness absence was a priority and that it was carrying out a review on how to improve its levels.

“The staff are working to the maximum and beyond,” said Gary Applin, secretary of service’s Unison branch. “They travel extra long amounts for calls and their stress levels are increasing.

“The amount of incidental overtime has increased and that has a detrimental effect on staff illness.

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“We have got less resources doing the same amount of work, if not more, and there will be an impact on staff wellbeing and sickness.

“We have got Government targets, which are never the best thing. They have a detrimental effect on staff and it puts them under more pressure.

“I have been in the service 11 years and morale has never been lower. I think it’s just pressure of the job that people do and it’s increasing year on year.”

A spokeswoman for EEAST said its crews undertake a very physically demanding job, often in the most challenging situations.

She said: “Reduction of sickness absence is a priority for us and last year we launched a new sickness absence management policy to provide better support to both staff and managers and restructured our occupational health service to tackle the issue.

“We also introduced an employee assistance programme, which provides counselling, financial and legal advice and other services to staff. We are continuing to build on this work with a review of how we can work with staff to more closely manage absence.”

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