Councillors in East Ayrshire have backed taking a supportive approach to workers who are off sick, despite concerns about rising absences.

Last week it was reported that days lost at East Ayrshire Council had rocketed by 22.5 per cent in a year, rising to 82,050 sick days, with a more than a quarter being stress related.

The impact of Covid, both directly and indirectly, and the cost of living crisis has also fuelled the rise.

However, the council reiterated its commitment to its shift from "managing absence to supporting employees’ wellbeing".

Councillor Clair Maitland admitted the report to cabinet was ‘very stark’.

She said: “I am delighted that we continue to support the attendance at work policy.

“It came about before covid and we had no idea this was going to happen.

“It is the right way forward, moving away from disciplinary action to support.

“Around 75 per cent of our employees live in EA and, looking at the ageing population, we are going to have a lot of employees in caring positions themselves so we have to provide support.”

She added that comparisons between councils were often like comparing apples and pears, with councils often differing significantly when it comes to in-house provision of services like home care, where some employ in-house and others contract out and do not require to provide absence figures.

Nevertheless, the figures were an issue, she admitted.

The SNP councillor said: “I am disappointed in some of them and upset at some of them.

The 46 per cent increase in cancer care absences is shocking and shows the knock on effect of covid.

“There is no getting away from how stark the statistics are.”

Her party colleague, Councillor Neal Ingram, also welcomed the value of the support being provided.

He said: “Obviously we want to support people to come back to work as soon as possible, giving people that support and addressing underlying reasons for absence.

“Personal stress is, unsurprisingly, a major factor given current cost of living crisis and the social implications of the pandemic.

"I am glad to see the focus is on mental health and wellbeing to support people coming back.”

Council leader Douglas Reid agreed that the impact of covid continued.

He said: “Again, that is another hidden consequence of Covid and the impact on mental health and wellbeing, the isolation and the general stress of an issue that was affecting everyone.”

Long Covid had shown a huge increase in days lost, rising by 240 per cent, while covid cases themselves rose by 35 percent.