LONG Covid is a "factor" in rising long term absence rates at Fife Council who are looking at "extraordinary" measures to try and tackle the issue.

And part of the reason staff are off sick for extended periods is because NHS Fife is so "severely stretched" that ill employees are having to wait much longer to be seen by health professionals.

Councillors were told that council chiefs are considering throwing money at the problem, with the possibility that a dedicated team will be brought in to try and help more people back to work.

Sharon McKenzie, head of HR, said: "Underlying the long term absence shift there's a noticeable concern about the capacity of the NHS to support individuals who are sick and who require NHS intervention as we come out of the pandemic period.

"You'll be aware from what you read and hear on the news that NHS capacity is severely stretched so there are long waiting lists.

"Employees of ours who are in a period where they're waiting for intervention, their sickness absence is therefore protracted because of that."

A report to the finance, economy and corporate services scrutiny committee stated that long-term absence rates at the council have gone up.

It said: "The profile of sickness shows an increased number and duration of absences for conditions requiring hospital or medical treatment.

"Long Covid is now a factor in long term absence rates."

The average working days lost, per full time employee (excluding teachers), due to sickness absence rose to 15.29. In 2020-21 it was 11.83 days.

Ms McKenzie said: "It's a difficult one to say just how how much of an impact Long Covid is having on our absence levels as it can manifest itself in so many different ways and employees may report different reasons for being absent.

"Where employees are reporting Long Covid they're getting all the support and rehabilitation we have to help get them back into employment."

Asked if 'burnout' was a factor in long term absences, with workers having to do more to cover for staff shortages and recruitment issues, she replied that a number of employees have moved from short term to long term absence due to stress but this was "most often attributable to non-work related factors".

Fewer workers were off sick during the pandemic, she told councillors it was partly due to staff working from home, and there was a similar pattern across a number of councils.

Ms McKenzie continued: "What we have as we started to emerge from the pandemic years is our absence levels increasing.

"Within the council our short term absence, absences which are less than four weeks, from 2020-21 to 2021-22 we've seen that start to reduce.

"There might be a few reasons for that, possibly again due to working from home, people are able to manage to work from home whereas in the past they might not have been able to do so if they were coming into a building.

"We're also seeing our long term absences increase and they've increased by approximately an average of four working days lost across all our employees."

She said: "This has been subject to some discussion through the council executive team and we're looking at some extraordinary intervention to support the recovery of our absence figures.

"There will be a report early in the New Year where hopefully we'll invest in some additional resource to support not just HR and other services but to support managers directly.

"It's not going to be a quick fix, our absence levels are high but we're trying to put in place as many supports as we can to try and address that."

The HR boss added that 43 per cent of employees had no sickness at all during 2021-22, "so that's a good statistic to hold onto".