A GROWING number of nursery workers in East Renfrewshire are taking sick leave because of mental health problems, a new report has revealed.

In the last five years, a total of 194 nursery and childcare staff employed by East Renfrewshire Council have gone off sick due to conditions such as stress, anxiety or depression.

It is claimed that local authorities are struggling to cope with the demand from working parents for free nursery places, with a third of childcare staff nationally having quit since 2016.

In 2018/19, there were 30 absences in East Renfrewshire caused by mental health issues but, by 2022/23, that had risen to 46.

Meghan Gallacher, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “These alarming figures point to a mental health crisis among nursery and childcare staff.

“The rapidly rising number of stress-related absences is very worrying but also grimly predictable.

“It’s a crying shame that our childcare providers are so underfunded and demoralised. It’s little wonder that we are seeing so many off sick due to stress in these circumstances.”

The figures for East Renfrewshire Council, released following a Freedom of Information request, show the number of childcare staff employed by the local authority has risen from 255 to 371 since 2018.

Salaries range from £17,537 for a trainee to £42,527 for a senior manager.

Across Scotland, more than 8,000 nursery and childcare staff took some time off work due to stress or poor mental health between April 2018 and March this year – an increase of 53 per cent.

Since 2021, parents in East Renfrewshire have been entitled to 1,140 hours of free childcare each year, funded by the Scottish Government.

However, the Scottish Conservatives have said they would go further by providing 30 hours of free childcare a week for children aged from nine months.

Ms Gallacher added: “The Scottish Government must expand childcare to support parents back into work and to give our children the best possible start in life.”

A spokesperson for East Renfrewshire Council said: “The rollout of increased early learning and childcare provision for all provided an opportunity for us to invest in our early years workforce, with professional learning and training dedicated to meeting the demands of the role.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff is extremely important to us and we have measures in place to support them.”

The Scottish Government said helping nursery and childcare staff with their mental health and emotional wellbeing is of “critical importance.”

A spokesperson added: “Since October 2020, we have invested over £2million in the wellbeing 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 1,140 programme and to support Scotland’s children and families through the challenges of the last few years.”