DAYS lost to stress, depression and anxiety have more than trebled at county hospitals in three years.

Last year staff at hospitals like Oxford’s John Radcliffe had a total 22,547 days off – the equivalent of 61.7 years – compared to 7,149 in 2009, 14,384 in 2010 and 22,462 in 2011.

And between January and June this year 10,195 days have already been lost due to psychiatric- related absences.

Critics last night raised fears that patient care was being put at risk as a result of staff taking time off, but hospital bosses said most lost days are not work related.

The figures – obtained by the Oxford Mail under the Freedom of Information Act – reveal that last year 694 hospital employees had days off due to stress, depression, anxiety or other psychiatric illnesses.

That’s compared to 267 staff in 2009, 464 in 2010 and 699 in 2011. Although the number of staff taking days off last year fell slightly, the number of days taken between them rose, with each employee taking an average of 32 days sick.

One JR worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “I don’t think it is surprising. There are more patients and less staff.

“The doctors have less work but nurses have more responsibility.”

Cover is often not brought in, while finding full-time replacements has taken up to a year, she said.

While she praised support, she said bosses had “unrealistic expectations” and patients are “more demanding”.

The highest number of staff who took days off relating to anxiety, stress and depression were registered nurses and midwives – with 285 taking time off last year.

The lowest was in the “estates and ancillary” department – just eight employees were off sick in the category request.

In April we reported that 36 per cent of staff surveyed said they had felt unwell from work-related stress, up five per cent on the last year.

The latest headcount shows the trust has 11,140 staff on March 31 compared to 10,732 on the same day in 2012.

But demand has risen year-on-year with 1,022,035 attendances in 2012/13 compared to 933,348 in 2009/10.

At the same time the trust has had to save £160m over four years, including £45.5m saved against last year’s £821.7m turnover. Changes to nursing rotas are among the savings at the trust, which also runs Headington’s Churchill Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Banbury’s Horton General.

Deputy director of workforce for the trust Carl Jenkinson said: “The health and wellbeing of our staff members is something that we take very seriously.”

The JR’s “Occupational Health and Wellbeing Centre” opened in May and “stress workshops”

are helping managers spot the causes, he said.

When asked about the figures he said “70 per cent on average are reported to be non-work related issues” when absence forms are completed.

The trust has made “good progress” on overall sickness rates, 3.1 per cent in March compared to 3.4 per cent 12 months before.

But Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith said: “It is very worrying to see such a dramatic increase in days off through stress. It must reflect the pressures the hospitals are under.

He warned it “cannot be good for patients when staff are stressed” and taxpayers face a “fortune” in temporary cover.

Managers have said bank and agency cover spend is a “challenge” with £24.6m spent in 2012/13 - £6.2m more than the previous year.

Royal College of Nursing regional officer Victoria Couling said she would be raising the figures with the trust.

While she said staff are increasingly comfortable raising issues of stress, some may be put off recording it as a reason for days off.

She said: “People are always worried to think that their employers thinks they can’t cope.”

And some who feel their anxieties and stress are from elsewhere may not see it is “directly related” to work stress, she said.

Rosalind Pearce, director of Healthwatch, the county’s official health and social care watchdog, said: “Our concern is not only the staff and how the trust is managing that but what impact absences have on services.

“Absences affect continuity of care which has an impact, potentially, on patients’ recovery rates.”

Jacqueline Pearce-Gervis, chairwoman of county health watchdog Patient Voice, said: “If just one member of staff is stressed in an environment, particularly a hospital, it affects everyone else, most important of all the patients.”

She said: “If they are stressed that affects everyone in the department and the poor patients suffer.

“They don’t get the care they deserve.”