Pandemic takes its toll on mental health of South Yorkshire emergency services staff with 11 percent more staff taking time off work

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The toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken on South Yorkshire emergency service workers has been laid bare in new information collected by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The number of staff from Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield and Doncaster hospitals, as well as South Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and Yorkshire Ambulance service who took time off work for a mental-health related issue rose by 11 per cent from 2019 to 2020.

Though information revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, it was disclosed that in 2019, 4,094 staff took time off work for mental-health related issued, which rose to 4,580 by 2020.

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Only South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service bucked the trend, with 38 per cent fewer staff off sick for mental health conditions in 2020, compared to 2019.

Mental health issues.Mental health issues.
Mental health issues.

The percentage of staff at Barnsley Hospital was the highest, with 26 per cent more staff taking time off in 2020 compared to 2019.

At Doncaster’s hospital the figure is three percent, at Sheffield teaching Hospitals NHS Trust the 13 per cent more staff took time off, and in Rotherham the difference is two percent.

At Yorkshire Ambulance Service, 22 percent more staff took time off last year.

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For South Yorkshire Police, 168 members of staff took time off for mental health reasons in 2020, at a loss of 5776 working days.

Although figures for the whole workforce were not provided, previous data shows that 103 South Yorkshire Police officers took time off in 2019.

A spokesperson for the GMB Union said that sickness absence rates across Yorkshire are higher than the national average, and that the union is concerned about staff suffering form burnout, exhaustion and PTSD.

The spokesperson added: “It’s now more than a year since the start of the pandemic and no one can deny the impact it has had on all workers within the NHS.

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“Sickness absence rates in Yorkshire continue to be above the national average despite vaccine rollout gaining pace.

“GMB is still concerned about the Government’s announcement of mandatory vaccination for social care, with reports that some local NHS Trusts are looking to do the same.

“Staff vaccination take up and discussions continue to be a priority, with some hospital trusts rolling out mandatory training for all managers with responsibility for sickness absence management.

“There are increasing numbers of people suffering with long covid and the list of symptoms continues to grow, with many having to take further time off work.

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“These absences have been treated in a variety of ways by different employers, but overall additional support measures have not been there, leaving sick staff fighting to be paid only adding to financial pressures.

“Our members say compared to 12 months ago, working during the pandemic has had a serious negative impact on their mental health.

“From fears of taking covid home and not being able to see family and friends, to balancing work and caring responsibilities.

“With real concerns about burnout, exhaustion and PTSD GMB continues to campaign for improved access to mental health support at work.

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“We are calling for a just, learning culture and for recognition, pay protection and a flexible approach to individuals suffering with long covid.”

However, hospital bosses say they have put in place a number of measures to help staff cope if they are struggling with a mental health condition.

Steve Ned, director of workforce at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We take the health and wellbeing of our colleagues seriously and we have invested in a number of support options for any colleagues to access if they would find them beneficial.”

Jackie Cole, head of operations for South Yorkshire at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said that he health and wellbeing of staff is taken “very seriously”, adding: “We work closely with our trade union colleagues to ensure the most appropriate initiatives are developed and we regularly signpost our staff to regional and national programmes.”

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A Sheffield Teaching hospitals NHS Trust spokesperson told the local democracy reporting service that the cause of the illness is “not necessarily work related”, and that support is available for staff, such as a 24 hour telephone counselling service, calm rooms, and are creating more outdoor spaces for staff.

At South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, a specialist team of staff support anyone who has experienced a traumatic incident, and has introduced an employee assistance programme that gives our staff access to confidential 24/7 support on mental health and other life-related issues.