Mental Health and Wellbeing Support in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
2. Data review and analysis
10. The SFRS produces a wide range of reports that ensure scrutiny of absence rates, and the causes of absence can be understood and analysed. These reports are widely utilised by the SFRS board and by Service management. The Board scrutinise this information via Its People Committee while a range of management groups, up to and including the Senior Leadership Team, analyse a range of data sets. The governance for mental health and wellbeing absence data is well embedded within the SFRS.
11. Absence from work with a mental health causation will often result in a long-term absence of over 28 days. For the purposes of this report, we have chosen to focus on several key areas within this category. When utilising the SFRS supplied data we have only made a comparison per causation factor within distinct employee groups. While we recognise this is a snapshot of absence, we are content that the Service makes reference and comparison to previous quarterly totals within the reports that we have used for reference.
12. Total working days lost in long-term absence in reporting period quarter 4 of 2022/23 equalled 12,243 days3. The top cause for days lost within this was for musculoskeletal (MSK) reasons, with 43% or 5,232 days lost. The second top cause was psychological reasons, with 26% or 3,122 days lost. Days lost per person within the MSK, and psychological categories were roughly the same at around 35 days per absence.
13. Of particular interest was the ratio of days lost, comparing MSK to psychological long-term absence by employee group. When this exercise is done there are some consistencies but also some anomalies. The ratio of long-term absence days for MSK compared to psychological causes for operational Wholetime firefighters was 1.5 to 1, and for Operational Control (OC) personnel 1.7 to 1. We are content that these are reasonably consistent and comparable. It is worthy of note, although not a focus of this inspection report, that the ratio for On Call firefighters is 3 to 1.
14. It is noticeable that the ratio of days lost to MSK and psychological long-term absence appears to reverse for Flexible Duty Officers (FDOs) when compared to the operational firefighter (wholetime, on-call and OC) groups. The ratio for FDOs is 1 to 2.5 in favour of psychological causes of long-term absence days lost. This figure is even more pronounced for Support Staff i.e., 1 to 3.75.
15. The SFRS also reports on management referrals for employees to the Health and Wellbeing team. In the same reporting period, the main causes for referrals are 46% Psychological and 31% MSK. These referral rates are generally consistent across a range of quarterly reports. Of interest within this data set is the rate of referral within employee groups per 1,000 staff. The number of referrals to the Health and Wellbeing team range from 3.6% for FDOs, increasing in number for On Call and wholetime firefighters to support staff with 9.6% of the referrals. However, by comparison, the rate of referral for OC staff is significantly different at 34.9%.
16. The OC staff group is considered more fully within this report in respect of the application of the Service’s Post Incident Support Procedure (PISP). We make comment and recommendations on the PISP in relation to OC personnel, but it may be worth consideration by the SFRS that a more systematic approach to the application of the procedure for this staff group may have an impact upon the relatively high managerial referral rates for psychological issues.
17. The SFRS has previously extrapolated costs4 that can be attributed to absence due to psychological causes. It was estimated that every one percent of absence equated to a cost of £20,000. On that basis any reduction in absence due to psychological or other causes would have a cashable benefit for the Service. Given that there are now a wide range of services that aim to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of employees within the SFRS, it is not unreasonable to hope that the financial costs of this absence should reduce in future.