THE number of sick days taken by ambulance and community NHS staff has risen, new figures show.

South Central Ambulance Service workers took an average 18.1 days off in the 12 months from April 2010, compared to 17.1 the year before.

Community and mental health workers at Oxford Health NHS Trust took an average 11 days off, compared to eight the year before.

But at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe, Churchill and Banbury’s Horton hospitals, sick days fell from an average 10 to 7.5 a year.

The national average in the private sector is 6.4 days.

Ambulance service spokesman James Keating Wilkes blamed lifting and moving patients for leading to injuries and putting paramedics out of action.

He said: “One of the main causes for sickness absence continues to be musculo-skeletal problems.

“Other causes include infections such as colds and flu, diarrhoea and vomiting.

“Our frontline staff are exposed to ill and infectious patients on a daily basis.

“All front line staff are trained in manual handling and the trust has an occupational health provider which all staff can access free of charge.”

A spokesman for the Oxford Health NHS Trust, which employs about 3,100 staff, including mental health and community nurses, said a quarter of all staff did not have any sick days.

At the ORH, 3,500 workers out of 8,000 did not have a day off in the last year, it said.

The trust said main reasons for sickness were stress, post-surgical recovery, gastro-intestinal problems, sprained joints and broken bones.

Spokesman Susan Brown added: “These conditions, by definition, require considerable recovery time and can skew what the typical average is for each employee.

“In addition, our staff work in an acute hospital setting and therefore, if they are suffering with any type of infectious disease, must ensure that they do not return to work until it is absolutely safe to do so.

“Our occupational health team work with our staff to ensure they are given the support and advice they need in returning to work after illness or injury or with coping with long term heath conditions.

“We are lucky to have a very dedicated workforce, with many staff having exemplary attendance rates.”