SICK leave remained low at the Great Western Hospital compared to the rest of the UK, with about 213 staff recorded to have missed work each month last year.

While around 4.06 per cent of all hospital and healthcare staff nationwide called in sick each month between April 2013 and February 2014, just 3.89 per cent of the hospital’s 5,500 staff failed to report for duty in Swindon.

The figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre were welcomed by GWH, which had been attempting to drive down absences to ensure patients were well cared for and reduce pressure on those left to cope on the ground.

Sickness rates were at their lowest last spring with 3.62 per cent recorded in May 2013 and 3.39 per cent in June.

However, they rose to 4.18 per cent in October 2013 and 4.12 per cent and 4.13 per cent respectively in January and February 2014.

This was to be expected as colds and coughs become more prominent in the winter months, according to Oonagh Fitzgerald, GWH director of workforce and education.

“Over the past few years we have done a lot of work to reduce sickness absence in the trust and I am pleased to see that reflected in our absence rates,” she said.

“Over the winter period our staff sickness did increase, but this is to be expected during the winter months with common illnesses like coughs and colds.”

The hospital has also put support measures in place over the years allowing staff to receive counselling or access advisors to assess their wellbeing. Agency staff are also called upon to take over from absent employees to ensure teams are not shorthanded, she added.

“At times where staffing levels are reduced due to sickness we rely on temporary staffing, largely from our strong team of bank staff. These are staff who are already fully trained and familiar with the wards and departments in the hospital.

"On occasions we will have to use agency staff to cover unplanned absences at short notice to supporting teams who are extremely busy caring for an increasing number of patients.

“One of our six commitments to our staff through our people strategy is to look after them, and we recognise that healthy staff provide better patient care.

“As such we focus a lot of energy on supporting staff to remain at work by providing access to trained occupational health advisors to assess their health and wellbeing.

"They also have access to counselling, mental health support, and extra physiotherapy support to help combat and reduce common musculoskeletal disorders, such as back and neck injuries.

“All of this helps contribute to a fall in absence, so that we have more staff available to care for patients on our wards.”