The equivalent of 338 full-time members of staff were lost to sickness at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals in a single month over the summer.
Board members have been told that the figures - for July - are “a concern” and at odds with the level which might be expected for the time of year.
Mental health issues and musculo-skeletal problems account for the majority of days taken off work by staff - but stomach upsets are the cause of the greatest number of individual instances of absence.
The overall absence rate stood at 5.15 percent, overshooting a 3.5 percent maximum target set by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, the trust which runs the two facilities. The highest rate was within the hospitals’ estates department (6.6 percent), followed by its medical division (5.7 percent).
Karen Swindley, the trust’s workforce director, told a board meeting that an action group had been set up to find out if there was any underlying cause for the sickness rate - which is higher than at the same point last year.
“There may be a need for broader intervention [if] there is something more systemic going on. [If we] improve management and leadership, that will have an overall impact,” Ms Swindley said.
But the board also heard of a potential link between levels of staff sickness and the number of vacancies within the trust. The vacancy rate at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals is currently 12 percent.
Sarah Cullen, deputy director of nursing and midwifery, told members of a plan to recruit 100 healthcare assistants before Christmas “to offset the pressures of winter by providing additional staff.”
However, according to a report presented to the meeting, there needs to be “a doubling in the current supply rate” of unregistered nurses in order to bridge the gap in the number of those workers at the trust. Meanwhile, a business case is being prepared to permit the hospitals to recruit internationally for registered nursing posts.
Members were told that another partial solution to sickness levels could lie in “ergonomics” - making improvements to the equipment which staff use and the environment in which they work.
Meanwhile, existing staff will be encouraged to “rest, rehydrate and refuel”, as part of an on-going Royal College of Nursing campaign.
But Jim Whitaker, a non-executive director at the trust, added that the answer to the problem may need to be found “at a local level” within individual departments.