AN NHS Fife chief has admitted staff are "exhausted" after dealing with pandemic challenges for over 20 months.

Chief Executive Carol Potter acknowledged that "whole system pressures" were continuing and staff shortages and absences were adding to the strain of workers.

"Over the past 20 month now, nearly 21 months, the whole system has been under exceptional and relentless pressure," she told NHS Fife Board members.

"This is reflected on a daily basis by the high number of admissions, the high attendance in the emergency department. On top of all of that, our staff are feeling exhausted and we are seeing, in recent weeks, increasing absence rates. It is worth acknowledging many issues we are facing are not new but covid has exacerbated the situation."

She said the safety and wellbeing of the staff and patients were the board's "upmost priority".

Her report to members stated: "Our workforce remains the greatest asset to NHS Fife and throughout the pandemic there has been an enormous and relentless ask of all members of staff.

"They are central to the safe and person centred delivery of our services, either directly as clinicians or as part of the wider range of professionals and supporting infrastructure within the organisation.

"It is evident within the current climate that we face staff shortages across many professions with recognised acceptable staffing ratios often being difficult to maintain.

"This increases workload and places a level of personal pressure on individual members of staff in their commitment to fulfil their role to the best of their abilities.

"NHS Fife recognises that listening to staff voices and dealing with concerns and issues in partnership is core to our ability to meet the current challenges and ensure everything possible is being done to address the difficulties being faced on a daily basis by our staff."

Sinead Bradie, chair of the staff governance committee, said the staffing levels remained a concern.

"The committee wish to highlight continuing concerns expressed by the management and staff about the pressure staff are under," she added.

NHS Fife Director of Workforce Linda Douglas said staff absence was currently sitting at 5.95 per cent – the majority of which was long-term absence – but this was likely to raise to over six per cent by the next meeting.

"We will continue to target sickness absence in accordance with policy and procedures in an individual person-centered way," she said. "We recognise these efforts that staff are having to take time away from work and we support them in that."

Ms Potter said they were pursuing a number of flexible and innovative approaches to recruitment in their efforts to help.

"A successful recruitment campaign has brought in 150 newly qualified staff into Fife which is a great step forward," she said. "We have also signed up a memorandum of understanding with the Yeovil Trust which will see 40 nurses and three radiographers come in."