CORONAVIRUS caused hospital staff to miss almost 20,000 days of work last year, figures reveal.

NHS Digital data shows the equivalent of 131,459 full-time staff days were lost due to sickness at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust between March and December.

Around one in seven of these (19,082) were because of Covid-19, with staff worst affected towards the end of the year.

East Lancashire Hospitals staff were absent for 4,667 days because of coronavirus in November, but were least impacted in August – losing 327 days.

Around 2.5 million days were lost in the NHS across England due to the virus, giving an overall sickness absence rate of 4.7 per cent between March and December.

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the BMA, said: “We know the NHS went into the pandemic woefully short on staff and these worrying figures highlight how Covid-19 has made a severe workforce shortage even more desperate.

“Covid-related staff absences coupled with the significant negative impact on NHS staff mental health and wellbeing during the last year have meant more staff needing to take time off work, threatening the NHS’s very ability to provide essential services."

According to the figures, more than half a million days were lost across England due to stress, anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses in December – the highest of any month since the pandemic started.

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for trusts in England, said coronavirus and the usual winter pressure had a huge impact on staff, with hospitals still having to deal with the knock-on effects.

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the "remarkable" work of the NHS during this challenging period must not be taken for granted, and called for long-term support.

She added: “We urge the Government to ensure the NHS has the right levels of staff to build flexibility into the system by providing a fully costed and funded national workforce plan.

"This will help to relieve the pressure on staff, making it easier to cover sickness absences, while ensuring a manageable workload and a better work-life balance."

The NHS figures also show that support staff to doctors, nurses and midwives at East Lancashire Hospitals were absent most often.