Sick days up for council staff in Conwy and Gwynedd

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A stressed-out worker
Image caption,
Increases in stress-related illnesses among workers are being linked to the recession

The number of days north Wales council staff and teachers have taken off sick and blamed on stress and other mental health-related issues has emerged.

A report shows Conwy council lost 12,103 days to such conditions in 2009-10.

Denbighshire lost 10,476 working days, while Flintshire lost 9,983.

In Conwy, absences cost £1m and have been linked by the local authority to the recession.

The Conwy figure equates to an average of 11.09 work days lost per member of staff and includes days lost in the year to stress, anxiety, mental health and nervous disability conditions.

The average was up about one-third of a day on 2008-09, when it was 10.7 days.

The total number of days lost to stress by Gwynedd council staff (including school employees) was 5,768.

Anglesey council was unable to provide figures for its teachers, but confirmed 484 days were lost among council staff.

Wrexham council said it lost, on average, 4,165 days (including schools staff) per month between April 2009 and March 2010.

The figure for the previous year was 3,706 days per month.

The figures for Flintshire are recorded differently and include stress, depression, fatigue and mental illnesses such as anxiety and nervous disability disorder in the same bracket.

The report provided to Conwy council pointed towards the current economic climate as a factor in the rise.

It said: "An economic downturn can have a double-edged impact on sickness levels - some people may feel increased pressure to show their loyalty to the organisation and go in to work even when they are sick, but there could also be an increase in sickness absence levels if employees suffer from stress and anxiety."

The authority is investigating the details and costs of mental health and wellbeing services on offer in the area and staff are being trained to better manage mental ill health in the workplace.

Denbighshire council leader Hugh Evans said that managing staff absence was high on the agenda and last year the authority had managed to reduce sickness absence overall by a day and a half per employee.

Managers also receive training on dealing with stress among staff.

Redundancy fears

He said: "Denbighshire has its own occupational health department with three part-time counsellors and staff are referred to the occupational health team as soon as stress is identified and they are offered counselling and support.

"We look to always actively support our staff at every opportunity but any member of staff who is found to be exploiting their sickness absence will face disciplinary action leading to possible dismissal.

"Over the past 12 to 18 months there have 28 terminations connected with poor attendance."

At the 7,000-strong Gwynedd the figure was up from 5,487 days the previous year.

It said the council's occupational health unit had managed to reduce the number of working days lost to stress gradually over the past three years.

At Anglesey the figures were down from 553 days in 2008/09. A spokesperson added that absences among social workers had reduced from 235 in 2008/09 to none in 2009/10.

A spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers said no exact figures were available for north Wales, but there had been a rise in calls from stressed teachers in areas hit by redundancy like Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.

She said: "The threat of redundancy affects everybody in a school community and it is very worrying and stressful for all those involved.

"In Swansea I believe there have been 40 redundancies and we are frequently dealing with very, very stressed teachers."

She said the crux of the matter was a lack of funding from central government, with a current discrepancy between Welsh and English pupils of £527 per pupil, with Wales receiving less funding.

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