AN ACTION plan has been launched to stop the rising number of staff calling in sick at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Anxiety, stress and depression are the biggest cause of absence with nursing, midwifery administrative and clerical staff having a worse than average sickness rates.

Bosses at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust are rewriting the existing five sickness policies to form one policy for all staff working at the Royal Bolton and community services.

The average rate of sickness across all trusts in the North West is 4.37 per cent.

Bolton’s rate of sickness has risen from 4.56 to 5.33 per cent during the last financial year.

In March, this equated to about 273 out of the trust’s 5,160 employees.

Suzanne Woolridge, acting director of workforce at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said “organisational change” could be one of the causes of stress and anxiety.

Ms Woolridge added: “Our main aim is to reduce the absence situation and the number of people off sick.

“We have done some proactive work to look at the reasons for both short-term and long-term sickness.

“We were keen to have one policy for all of the workforce rather than five different ones.

“We have not got the worse rates in Greater Manchester, but we are very focussed on reducing absence rates.

“There has been an increase in absence rates over the last 12 months. That might be because we have had a difficult year and there’s obviously some consequences of that.”

Long-term absence — more than 28 days off work — is worse than short-term at the trust.

The trust has launched a number of interventions to tackle the problem, such as improving the management of sickness and a new support service for staff. This includes a mental health nurse and a a physiotherapist.

In a staff survey, a low number of employees said they would recommend the trust as a place to work or receive treatment.

Staff also ranked the trust poorly in work pressure and the percentage of staff suffering work related stress.

Trust bosses have admitted more needs to be done to support staff.

Chairman David Wakefield said: “If someone asked me to tell them what had been done to help our staff in the past year, I wouldn’t be able to say one thing.”

‘Job insecurity is taking toll’

JOB insecurity, increased workload and changes in shift patterns are behind the increasing numbers of staff suffering from stress, union chiefs have said.

Linda Miller, assistant secretary at Bolton Health Unison, said the squeeze on pay was also having an impact on the wellbeing of staff.

Ms Miller said: “There are quite a number of staff suffering from work-related stress.

“We have been under consultation since November, 2012. This means job cuts and departmental and organisational changes.”

She said there was uncertainty over jobs and staff didn’t know whether they would still have a job after the next stage in consultation.

She continued: “Changes in work pattern also has an impact. Some staff have changed from the eight hour shift to 12 hours. And then there’s the increased workload.

“People are working longer hours — especially if more people are on sick leave and there’s no agency staff to fill in.

“The problem with pay is also upsetting staff. Staff would feel like they are being rewarded properly if everyone was given a one per cent increase rather than the top banding of staff.”

The Government’s squeeze on NHS pay in March sparked anger among unions across the country.

Ministers announced a basic one per cent pay rise, but the 600,000 nurses and other staff receiving automatic “progression-in-job” increases, “typically worth more than three per cent”, will not get the one per cent as well.