More than 8,000 nursery and childcare staff have been absent due to their mental health over the past five years, new figures have revealed.

Freedom of information responses from all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities showed that absences caused by stress among early years staff has increased by 53% per cent in the last five years.

Between 2018-2019 and 2022-2023, 8,076 staff were absent due to stress of poor mental health, from 1,159 in 2018-19 to 1,779 in 2022-23.

The Scottish Conservatives say the figure is likely to be higher as three councils did not respond to requests and four did not produce figures for 2022/23.

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Additionally, freedom of information does not apply to private sector nurseries and early education establishments.

The Tories have claimed that the figures are indicative of a Scottish childcare crisis, with more than nine in 10 councils unable to fully fund free childcare, according to the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

The proportion of funded childcare places in partner settings was higher than the share of the budget used to pay for them, the organisation said in 2022.

Independent nurseries make up one third of childcare providers whilst getting just a fifth of funding.

Meghan Gallacher MSP, Scottish Conservative deputy leader and shadow minister for children and young people, urged the Scottish Government to give staff the support that they need.

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She said: “These alarming figures point to a mental health crisis among early years and childcare staff under the SNP.

“The rapidly rising number of stress-related absences is very worrying but also grimly predictable given the SNP’s transparent and unacceptable neglect of Scotland’s childcare sector.

“The SNPs rollout of 1,140 hours’ free childcare has pushed businesses to the brink of collapse and has resulted in a mass exodus of childminders.

“The invaluable work of early years staff and childcare providers is transformative in allowing new parents – like myself – to return to work, boosting our economy and benefiting young families.”

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She added: “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.

“Humza Yousaf cannot continue to short-change Scotland’s childcare sector, especially when he wants to expand the provision offered to parents.

“The SNP must urgently up their game to ensure that early years and childcare staff are given the support that they need.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.