Ipswich: Stress-related illnesses could rise as jobs are lost at mental health trust

PLANS to axe 500 frontline jobs at the county’s mental health trust will increase staff sickness, it’s been claimed.

Figures have revealed on average 5.5% of workers at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) were absent between April and June this year. That is the second highest figure among health trusts in the region, with only the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) higher with 6.4% over the same period.

The average for the east of England region – covering Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire – was 3.9%.

Earlier this month NSFT announced plans to shed one-in-five frontline jobs in a bid to make budget savings.

Jeff Keighley, Unison spokesman at NSFT, said: “Both the ambulance and mental health service are highly pressurised – there’s a high amount of patient contact and stress in these jobs.

“If you reduce the staff you increase the workload and you increase the stress.

“Any staff restructuring will have an impact on attendance at work.

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“Any restructuring or uncertainty always causes stress and impacts on sickness levels.”

Mr Keighley added he was talking to bosses about how to cut staff stress in the future, such as ensuring the trust has a good bullying and harassment policy.

Meanwhile Gary Applin, secretary of the ambulance service’s Unison branch, told the EADT earlier this year that staff morale was at a 10-year low.

A spokeswoman for EEAST said: “We recognise that we need to focus on reduction of sickness absence and this is a priority for us.

“We have launched a new sickness absence management policy to provide better support to both staff and line managers in managing absences and their causes and restructured our occupational health service to tackle the issue.”

A NSFT spokeswoman said: “The trust’s sickness absence rate at the end of September was relatively high, however sickness rates in mental health trusts are invariably higher than in other NHS trusts and it is not always helpful to compare them. Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust also has a large regional secure service where recorded sickness rates will inevitably be higher than other parts of the NHS because of the need for a generally higher standard of fitness in the service.”

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