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Call for robust action as mental health problems cause a quarter of county council sickness

PUBLISHED: 01:21 30 September 2018 | UPDATED: 01:21 30 September 2018

Reduced staff numbers at Suffolk County Council has increased the workload on existign employees, according to HR bosses Picture: ARCHANT

Reduced staff numbers at Suffolk County Council has increased the workload on existign employees, according to HR bosses Picture: ARCHANT

Nearly a quarter of all absence at Suffolk County Council is down to mental health problems, it has emerged – with one in 10 absences down to stress.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for finance and assets said a robust plan was needed Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILRichard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for finance and assets said a robust plan was needed Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

County bosses admitted during a scrutiny meeting on Thursday that the absence rate was too high at 5% of all available working days being lost to sickness, equating to 55,014 days in total across the council in just 12 months.

Data published ahead of the meeting revealed that stress-related mental health was the top reason – 11.3% of all sickness, while anxiety accounted for 6.9% and depression 5%.

The meeting heard that of those reporting absent because of stress 43% was work related, with factors in people’s personal lives such as divorces or legal battles accounting for the rest.

The increased workload for many members of staff as a result of a reduced workforce was also labelled as key.

Sally Marlow, head of human resources, said: “The absence rate is too high and has been increasing in recent years.

“They range from a recent increase in workload as the workforce has reduced by 50%, to much broader societal issues such as the increased reporting of mental ill health because of the reduced stigma, which is a good thing.”

Ms Marlow said an occupational health team worked with staff reporting problems, and further training was being carried out for managers to better identify mental health issues and stop absence earlier.

More detailed conversations with staff and measures to “tighten up” sickness procedures are also being developed.

Absence rates within Suffolk Fire and Rescue were among the highest with a 12.7% absence rate, 85% of which was long term due to musco-skeletal issues or post-surgery recovery.

The physical nature of the job also made it difficult to deploy firefighters elsewhere when they have injuries, said chief fire officer Mark Hardingham.

National data by the Local Government Association found an average sickness rate of 4.2% in 2017 for upper tier authorities.

Richard Smith, cabinet member for finance and assets said: “I have made it very clear that robust action is expected because of the high levels of absence.”

He added: “It’s an area I will track carefully.”

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