THERE were 41,000 working hours lost at NHS Fife's operational division in March, new figures reveal.

The absenteeism problem was worst among nursing and midwifery staff where the sickness rate reached 8.26 per cent - more than double the target figure.

The overall absenteeism for NHS Fife's operational division, which covers hospitals, was 6.42 per cent in March, the highest in the past three years.

In a report to yesterday's ops division meeting, Sharon Hutchins, deputy director of human resources, stated, "It is disappointing to note that the absence rate has increased again to a peak of 6.42 per cent which is also above the NHS Fife average.

"The highest rates are in Nursing and Midwifery (8.26 per cent) Support Services (6.77 per cent), which is a Fife-wide service managed by the division, AHPs (Allied Health Profession) (5.71 per cent) and Healthcare Sciences (5.38 per cent).

"A group is being set up in the division with the aim of looking at the absences in more detail in an attempt to better understand the reasons for this level of absence and in turn enable it to be pro-actively managed.

"Some similar but higher-level work has been undertaken by the Fife-wide Attendance Management Group which has resulted in some work being taken forward."

NHS Fife board member John Winton said, "We need to be given an explanation for these levels. It's not as if there was particularly bad weather at these times."

Rona King, NHS Fife director of human resources, said, "The operational division in common with all other areas of NHS Fife is committed to managing absence and attaining the national standard for NHS Scotland of four per cent."

She said the absence level for March equated to a loss of 40,929 hours over all staff groups with the 8.26 per cent figure relating specifically to nursing and midwifery staff.

"Work continues to understand the reasons for this increase in the level of absence and to address these in partnership with staff and staff representatives," Ms King added.