Objectives: To assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sick leave among healthcare workers (HCWs) in primary and specialist care and examine its causes.
Methods: Using individual-level register data, we studied monthly proportions of sick leave (all-cause and not related to SARS-CoV-2 infection) from 2017 to February 2022 for all HCWs in primary (N=60 973) and specialist care (N=34 978) in Norway. First, we estimated the impact of the pandemic on sick leave, by comparing the sick leave rates during the pandemic to sick leave rates in 2017-2019. We then examined the impact of COVID-19-related workload on sick leave, by comparing HCWs working in healthcare facilities with different levels of COVID-19 patient loads.
Results: HCWs had elevated monthly rates of all-cause sick leave during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2.8 (95% CI 2.67 to 2.9) and 2.2 (95% CI 2.07 to 2.35) percentage points in primary and specialist care. The corresponding increases for sick leave not related to SARS-CoV-2 infection were 1.2 (95% CI 1.29 to 1.05) and 0.7 (95% CI 0.52 to 0.78) percentage points. All-cause sick leave was higher in areas with high versus low COVID-19 workloads. However, after removing sick leave episodes due to SARS-CoV-2 infections, there was no difference.
Conclusions: There was a substantial increase in sick leave among HCWs during the pandemic. Our results suggest that the increase was due to HCWs becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 and/or sector-wide effects, such as strict infection control measures. More differentiated countermeasures should, therefore, be evaluated to limit capacity constraints in healthcare provision.
Keywords: COVID-19; Health Personnel; Sick Leave.
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