Increased help is being given to under-pressure ambulance service staff after sickness among workers exceeded 10%.

Mental health and physiotherapy support is being given to East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) staff.

Figures on the NHS Digital dashboard from the end of February 2020 – just prior to the pandemic – indicated the staff sickness figure was 6.6%.

The number absent peaked at 12.31% at the end of January this year, before falling again, but according to the EEAST board papers this month the sickness rate is now 10.38%, including Covid-related sickness, twice the maximum 5% target.

In an update of health services across the county, Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer of Suffolk’s clinical commissioning groups, said: “The ambulance trust is the area of most concern, they have got up to 10% sickness rate which is extremely high – more than double the Suffolk average.

"The biggest factor in terms of sickness in the ambulance trust is mental health or stress, which I think is an indication of the pressure people are working under.”

He said pressures meant it already “feels much more like January” for services across the county – traditionally the toughest month for health organisations.

A spokeswoman for EEAST said: “The health and wellbeing of our people is a top priority for the trust and we are fully aware of the impact that the extreme and sustained operational pressures we are experiencing are having on our staff.

“To support our people, we have been increasing access to mental health services and physiotherapy which we hope will help their wellbeing and also reduce sickness levels.”

Chief executive Tom Abell’s report to the board this month said that £170,000 was being invested this winter into staff health and wellbeing.

Elsewhere, wellbeing practitioners and internal occupational health advisors are being recruited, increased access to talking therapies put in place and enhanced physiotherapy support allocated.

He said: “There has been a marked increase in sickness levels in recent weeks
which has coincided with the increase demand on our services and pressure in the system.

“We have recognised that our people are tired and stressed in the wake of the pandemic and high levels of calls.

“We are providing a number of additional health and wellbeing services to support our colleagues.”