Welsh NHS records nearly 1.5 million days of staff illness in past year

  • ITV Cymru Wales report by Elen Davies

The NHS in Wales has recorded nearly 1.5 million days of staff illness in the past year. 

A Freedom of Information request made by political programme ‘Y Byd yn ei Le’ shows that NHS staff in Wales have lost 1,492,118 days to illness in 2020/21, which is an increase of 152,721 on 2019/20.

The statistics also show that 3,102 out of nearly 78,000 NHS staff are absent from their work for a period of one month or longer. 

Sophie Burgess, who is a nurse on the Intensive Care Ward at the Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr, says the pressure of the pandemic and staff mental health have contributed to the number of staff who are off work.

“I know of people I would never have thought would suffer with mental health, suffering," she said.

"But unfortunately, because they’ve had to work nearly every day, 12 hour shifts - we’re meant to finish work at 19:30 but some of us are still there at 22:00, helping night staff - a lot are going off sick, I know loads.

“One thing I can say is, it has not gone away. In fact, the numbers are creeping up again now. When I started at this new hospital, I don’t think we had any COVID patients in ICU.

"They are coming in like there’s literally no tomorrow now and we’ve got no staff and every hospital is the same, there’s no staff to look after that patient to provide that highest possible standard of care for them, which is awful and disheartening.”

As winter approaches, Sophie is worried about what is to come. 

“We struggle every year with winter pressures as it is, and that’s only with the flu. We don’t have beds for patients, it’s awful. I’d hate for one of my family or friends to have to come into hospital at the moment.

"I want the public to realise that the pandemic still exists, and for them to try to help us by keeping 2 metres apart and continue to wear masks.

"We’re human beings at the end of the day, we’re not robots. We all have a heart, we all have emotions. I feel guilty speaking to fellow staff members about how I feel, because I know they feel the same. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

As NHS staff are affected by the pressure put on them by the pandemic, Covid-19 has affected those waiting for treatment too. 

In June of this year, 624,909 people in Wales were waiting for non-urgent treatment. Of those, 233,210 had to wait more than 9 months to be treated - 10 times more than before the pandemic. 

Richard Jones from Mold is a retired Police Inspector. Having wanted 3 years to see a hip specialist because he was having problems, the specialist informed Richard he’d have to wait a further 3 years to receive treatment on the NHS.

Richard Jones opted to pay for private healthcare because he'd waited 3 years to see a hip specialist.

“I nearly cried. You’re in pain, and ok, you get some good days, but you get some awful days, too. (I asked) can I bear this for another 3 years? No.”

Having heard how long he would have to wait, Richard decided to go private to have his operation. 

“I went private because I was in so much pain. Life is not very good, I can’t do things - I can’t walk, and it’s difficult getting in and out of the car.”

Richard says the fact he feels forced to go private isn’t right. 

“To be honest, it makes you feel wild, I get very angry about it. It’s not fair. I’ve worked throughout my life, paid my insurance at all times, and that’s it - they kick you in the teeth.”

In the meantime, the Welsh Government said they are continuing to invest in the recovery of NHS Wales in order to tackle waiting times built up during the Covid pandemic.

A spokesperson said: “Last month we announced an extra £140m to help address the backlog on top of an additional £100m announced in May.

"We are also working with clinicians to consider how we can improve the way orthopaedic care is delivered to ensure patients are treated as quickly as possible.”

Y Byd yn ei Le, 29 September, 20:25 on S4C.