The British Medical Association say the figures – which show millions of days were lost nationally – demonstrate how the pandemic has affected a health service “woefully” short on staff.
NHS Digital data shows the equivalent of 83,034 full-time staff days were lost due to sickness at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) between March and December, with 21,645 at Shropshire Community Health Trust (Shropcom) and 14,904 the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) near Oswestry.
At SaTH, one in six – 14,650 – were because of Covid-19, with staff worst affected towards the beginning of the pandemic.
At RJAH there were 1,076 days lost to Covid, and 4,031 at Shropcom.
The data also shows when trusts were more affected with SaTH staff absent for 3,258 days because of coronavirus in May, reducing to 632 in August.
About 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.
Dr Wrigley said the wellbeing of “exhausted” NHS staff is paramount as they face the biggest backlog of care in history, or else he fears many will reduce their hours, retire early or leave the health service entirely.
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.”
Sarah Sheppard, Chief People Officer at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, said: “It probably comes as no surprise to anyone the impact that the covid-19 pandemic has had across the NHS workforce, including our own.
“Our focus throughout the pandemic has been ensuring the wellbeing and safety of our staff and making sure they have access to the support that they need.
“Despite all of the challenges that covid-19 has brought, our staff have worked tirelessly – with many being redeployed to support colleagues at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), the county’s covid vaccination programme or elsewhere within our own wards and departments."
Steve Gregory, Executive Director of Nursing and Quality, and Covid Lead for Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust, said: “The last year has certainly been challenging from a care delivery and workforce perspective. Some of our staff caught covid in the community, and other colleagues had to isolate because someone in their household had tested positive for the virus. During the pandemic we have supported staff through various routes to try and keep people well and safe.
“We prepared for these eventualities and had plans in place to ensure our services remained safe and effective throughout.
“I am so proud of all our people for the way they have responded and coped with everything that has been thrown at them and made sure that our patients and service users have continued to get great care."
The issue has also been addressed in a board report being discussed by SaTH today, along with measures put in place to support staff.
Chief executive Louise Barnett's Integrated Performance Report states: “We recognise that our staff have worked extremely hard during the pandemic and faced many challenges to support our patients. As a consequence, we are providing additional health and well-being support to our staff.”