THE number of childcare staff in West Dunbartonshire taking leave due to mental health issues has risen by 85% in the last five years, according to new figures.

The statistics, which were obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through a Freedom of Information [FOI] request, show that 65 nursery and childminding staff were absent in 2022-23 – one of the highest recorded rates in the region so far.

This is an increase of 30 [85.7%] from 2018-19 when there were 35 absences.

However, West Dunbartonshire Council [WDC] said that of the 65 absences last year, only 12 were due to work-related stress absence.

A WDC spokesperson said: “These figures are very misleading as the 65 employee absences include all mental health absences, including non-work related issues.

“The true number of employees off due to work-related stress absence during 2022/23 is 12.

"In addition, the number of childminders working in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Council has remained the same since 2019.”

Over a five-year period – between 2018 and 2023 – the number has increased year-on-year only dropping slightly in 2022-23.

West Dunbartonshire recorded a higher increase in absence levels than neighbouring Argyll and Bute, which reported a jump of 66% over the last five years – going from 12 in 2018 to 20 last year.

The local authority area also saw a larger overall increase in comparison to nearby Glasgow.

In Glasgow, there were 337 childcare staff absent last year - an increase of 131 (63%) from 2018-19 when there were 206 absences.

Across Scotland the number has increased by 53 per cent since 2018 – however, it is noted that East Lothian, Inverclyde, and Midlothian did not respond to the FIO request.

Overall there have been more than 8,000 childcare staff absent due to mental health issues between 2018-2023.

Pam Gosal Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP for West Scotland said she is “alarmed” by these new figures and that they come against the backdrop of a “childcare crisis” in West Dunbartonshire.

Ms Gosal said: “These alarming figures point to a mental health crisis among early years and childcare staff in West Dunbartonshire.

“The rising number of stress-related absences among staff in West Dunbartonshire is extremely grim, but also sadly predictable given the SNP’s unacceptable neglect of the childcare sector in West Dunbartonshire.

“The SNP’s rollout of free childcare has pushed many businesses in West Dunbartonshire to the brink and also resulted in a major exodus of childminders.

“The work that early years and childcare staff in West Dunbartonshire carry out is invaluable and often allows parents to go back to work.

“That only helps boost the local economy in West Dunbartonshire and supports young families.

“It is extremely sad that our childcare staff in West Dunbartonshire are so overwhelmed and demoralised, and it is little wonder we are seeing so many sick days being taken.

“Humza Yousaf cannot continue to short-change the childcare sector in West Dunbartonshire, especially when he’s talking up the provision offered to parents.

“The SNP must up their game and give overwhelmed childcare staff in West Dunbartonshire the resources they need to support those in their care.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “Helping nursery and childcare staff with their mental health and emotional well-being is of critical importance to the Scottish Government.

“Since October 2020, we have invested over £2 million in the well-being of the whole education workforce, and we have worked with Early Years Scotland to develop a suite of resources and online tools specifically to support childcare practitioners.

“We are grateful to the hard-working professionals in the early learning and childcare sector for everything they have done to successfully deliver the 1140 programme and to support Scotland’s children and families through the challenges of the last few years.”