An MSP has called on the Scottish Government to take action after thousands of days were lost to staff sickness at a north-east jail.
New figures released by the Scottish Prison Service show staff at HMP Grampian took around 2,500 sick days in just seven months last year.
Absences were recorded for ailments including musculoskeletal pain and poor mental health.
And north-east Conservative MSP Liam Kerr – the shadow justice secretary – has called on ministers to ease the pressure on prison staff, though the Scottish Government said figures show sickness absence is falling.
He said: “Prison staff aren’t getting the support they deserve and because of this, many are having to take time off because the situation they are faced with on a daily basis at work is simply unbearable.
“The SNP continues to sit on their hands when it comes to staffing levels in prisons and the link this has on stress-related illnesses of those who currently work there.
“Since opening, the staffing issues at HMP Grampian are continuing to be ignored and, six years on, we have dozens of vacancies and thousands of sick days being taken.”
A total of 2,433 working days were lost due to sickness at HMP Grampian in the seven months between January and July 2019.
Since the beginning of 2015, staff have taken 19,466 days off at the north-east’s super-jail.
A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokeswoman said a number of measures are available to staff, including counselling and occupational therapy.
She said: “Prison officers work in a difficult and intensive environment and the SPS provides a range of measures and interventions to staff who require them.
“We recognise the continuing challenges of the recruitment and retention of staff at HMP Grampian and we continue to support the establishment with staff from elsewhere in the estate who are working at Grampian on detached duty.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted the number of sick days taken by officers had fallen for five consecutive months.
She added: “We recognise the importance of providing a safe environment for staff who work in our prisons.
“In the calendar year 2019, prison officer sickness absence fell by 3.3%, compared with 2018.
“However, prison officers work in a difficult and intensive environment.
“The Scottish Prison Service provides a range of measures and interventions for staff who require them, including occupational health support and access to counselling services.
“It is to the great credit of staff who work in our prisons that they perform well and that good order is maintained.
“We will continue to support our prison officers and we are taking a range of actions to reduce our prison population, to make sure that fewer people – who would be better punished in the community – go into our prisons. We need to continue that important work.”