Sickness saw South Ayrshire Council employees off work for the combined equivalent of 125 years over the course of just 12 months, a report has revealed.

The annual report on absences at the authority also shows that teacher absences have rocketed by more than 70 per cent, while general workforce absence rose by a quarter.

The report, which goes to the authority's Service and Performance Panel on Tuesday, September 20, doesn’t account for those who were sick with Covid, which was recorded separately until recently.

It shows that a total of 45,687 days, or 9.59 days per employee, had been ‘lost’ because of sickness absence between April 2021 and March 2022.

This was a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year’s rate of 7.41 days per employee.

The vast majority (35,707 days  or 78 per cent) were long term absences of more than four weeks.

The remaining 9,980 days lost (22 per cent) were short term.

As expected, there are significant variations in the absence rates in different services.

Teachers make up around a quarter of the council’s workforce, and saw an increase in absences from 3.1 days lost per employee in 2020/21 to 5.46 days in 2021/22, the highest since 2015/16.

The rate for South Ayrshire’s workforce, minus teachers, is 10.59 days lost per employee - the highest since 2013/14.

South Ayrshire has generally recorded a lower level of absences, across both the general workforce and teachers, than the national average over the last few years.

Most of the services which record higher rates of absence have a large number of staff and are general the most physically demanding, including care work and hands-on labour.

The lowest rates tend to fall among smaller groups who are in closer proximity to senior management.

However, there are anomalies, such as internal audit and corporate fraud, which had the third highest absence rate per employee.

With a full-time equivalent (FTE) workforce of 5.91 employees, the service recorded 91 days lost, or 18.2 per employee. 

However, with a smaller pool of employees, the impact of one person being absent long term has a much greater impact on the total than it would in larger services.

The three main reasons for absence among the general workforce were psychological (28.5 per cent), musculoskeletal (20.3 per cent) and cardiovascular (6.2 per cent).

For teachers the top three reasons were respiratory (28.7 per cent), gastrointestinal (23 per cent) and psychological (11.5 per cent).

The other services with the highest rates of absence are those which often have the most physical work.

Highest absence rates by department

Neighbourhood services – 317.22 FTE; 18.45 days per employee

Community and healthcare service – 463.69 FTE; 18.28 days

Internal audit and corporate fraud –  5 FTE; 18.2 days

Early years centres – 114.5 FTE; 16.95 days

Housing services – 164.98 FTE; 14.57 days

Lowest absence rates

Children’s services, planning and child poverty – 2.6 FTE;  0 days

Directorate support (people) – 4 FTE; 0 days

Professional design service – 16.97 FTE; 0 days

Special property projects – 5 FTE; 0 days

CE directorate support – 6 FTE; 0.57 days

The lowest rate for services of more than 100 staff is the Thriving Communities team, with 129.34 FTE and a loss of 4.39 days per employee.

Until July this year absences for Covid-19, including self-isolation, were treated as ‘special leave’.

The report explains: “The only Covid-related absences which are recorded as ‘sickness absence’ are those classed as 'long Covid', and only if the absence extends further than the 10 days isolation period.

“These rules were put in place at the start of the pandemic to ensure employees’ sick pay was not affected by Covid-related absences.

“For the purpose of this annual report, only sickness absences have been considered so that it can used as a fair comparison with previous ‘pre-pandemic’ reporting.”