Why is NHS Scotland staff absence so much lower?


According to the Guardian yesterday:

Absence rates in some hospitals are now between 8% and 12%, versus the health service’s normal level of 4%, just as the NHS comes under the greatest strain in its history.

Three days ago, The Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties warned health services were in danger of being overwhelmed. Their warning was heavily reported in the Scottish media:


However, as Andrew Marr put it, when you look at the data, isn’t the truth that it isn’t?

Here are the data:


There are approximately 160 000 staff in NHS Scotland. The absence level peaked at 5.8% in early April, fell to 0.7% in August, climbed to 2% in November and is now at 1.7%.

So, staff absence in NHS England is 4 to 6 times higher than in Scotland.

Why is this the case?

Could the fact that the community infection level in Scotland is consistently only half of that in England, be important?

Could the fact that NHS Scotland is far better staffed be a factor too?

6 thoughts on “Why is NHS Scotland staff absence so much lower?

  1. The ConDem Tories cut the NHS funding £20Billion from 2015 to 2020. Elected to protect the NHS. They cut funding. The NHS needs £10Billion. The Tories have offered £4Billion. They have increased Defence spending £Billions, The SNP Gov have to mitigate the cuts and increased funding in Scotland.


  2. The real problem is we still get our news from “somewhere else”.

    The so called “Scottish media” compliantly stay silent when such blatant lies are being spun. Their salaries and careers are far more important to them than reporting truth.


  3. I suspect that the level of staff absence in NHS Scotland is lower for several reasons – higher staffing levels, clear SG and general public support for the NHS, high levels of trade union membership.

    I know that the ‘professional associations’ get a lot of unchallenged publicity in the media and can be quite venal in their self-seeking statements, but they along with the unions representing other staff levels, are able to defend the working conditions of their memberships.

    These other unions do not get as much sympathy in the media that the ‘professional associations’ do. (Their members did not go to the ‘right’ schools or attend the sort of dinner parties the ‘professional’ grades do.)

    I suspect, too, that there is a higher level of ‘sense of duty to the community’. The population distribution of Scotland, outside the central belt and the east coast, is sparse and I think this does generate a greater sense of community and the ‘we’re all in this together’. Of course, such a sense is seen in England, too, but, I think the greater density of population and greater degree of movement makes the development of such a sense more difficult. But, even in pretty densely populated areas, such as Lewisham borough in London, there are excellent examples of community self-help. Perhaps the very high degree of multi-ethnicity is a factor: no group, not even ‘white English’, constitutes the majority of the population.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The BBC’s mis-reporting of quantitative evidence on Covid-19 has become a epidemic in its own right. This morning (31 December), a TODAY presenter on Radio 4 stated this (at c.7.50am), in terms: “More than 23,000 patients in hospital in England and Scotland, above the April peak …. ”

    I haven’t indulged in this ‘useless’ past-time for a while but thought I would for one last time in 2020 – submitting a complaint to the BBC. (So much time on my hands with no family gatherings to plan for this year is my only excuse!)

    “This reporting is inaccurate and a misrepresentation. I am especially concerned with the latter.

    According to UK government data the latest figures for England & Scotland at the time of broadcast are for 29 December. (Source: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/healthcare )

    The ‘More than 23,000” figure is only found for the whole of the UK, NOT for England plus Scotland: it is for 28th December, the latest available data for all four UK nations.

    On the 28th the actual figures for patients in hospital in (just) England & Scotland were: England = 20,426; Scotland = 1,040 (TOTAL = 21,466). There are later figures available for England & Scotland only, for 29th December: England = 21,787; Scotland = 1,092 (TOTAL = 22, 879). To be accurate, note the totals are less than 23,000!

    The historic comparison made by TODAY is my more SUBSTANTIVE concern. The ‘April peak’ for England for patients in hospital was 12th April. Here are the data for that day: England = 18,974, Scotland = 1,487. So yes, the latest figure for England (at 21,787) is substantially ABOVE this April peak: by stark contrast, the latest figure for Scotland (at 1,092) is substantially BELOW the number on that same 12th April day.

    The peak in terms of patient numbers in Scotland was actually 19 April. On that day the number was 1,520, i.e. 428 more patients than on 29 December (1,092).

    So the lumping of England & Scotland together in a TODAY broadcast to highlight patient numbers exceeding an April peak is: (a) unnecessary – disaggregated data are readily available to BBC researchers/editors; and (b) seriously misrepresents what is actually (factually) occurring across the UK.

    TODAY might consider informing listeners on relevant population ratios for England and Scotland to illustrate even further the stark contrast it hid this morning! ”

    I await a reply with no expectation!


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