Staff at Frimley Health missed more days of work because of coronavirus last year than almost anywhere else in the country, figures reveal.

The British Medical Association say the figures – which show millions of days were lost nationally – demonstrate how the pandemic has affected a health service that was "woefully" short on staff before it even began.

NHS Digital data shows the equivalent of 115,587 full-time staff days were lost due to sickness at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust between March and December.

Of these, 41,430 were because of Covid-19 – one of the highest of all the trusts in England, but behind Imperial College Healthcare, which lost 58,000 days.

READ MORE: Latest COVID-19 update on cases across Berkshire – May 3

Staff at Frimley Health were worst affected towards the beginning of the pandemic.

They were absent for 16,829 days because of coronavirus in April, but were least impacted in August – losing 674 days.

Around 2.5 million days were lost in the NHS across England due to the virus, giving an overall sickness absence rate of 4.7 per cent between March and December.

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the BMA, said: “We know the NHS went into the pandemic woefully short on staff and these worrying figures highlight how Covid-19 has made a severe workforce shortage even more desperate.

“Covid-related staff absences coupled with the significant negative impact on NHS staff mental health and wellbeing during the last year have meant more staff needing to take time off work, threatening the NHS’s very ability to provide essential services."

According to the figures, more than half a million days were lost across England due to stress, anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses in December – the highest of any month since the pandemic started.

Dr Wrigley said the wellbeing of "exhausted" NHS staff is paramount as they face the biggest backlog of care in history, or else he fears many will reduce their hours, retire early or leave the health service entirely.

READ MORE: Former Eastenders actor becomes ambassador of hospice

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for trusts in England, said coronavirus and the usual winter pressure had a huge impact on staff, with hospitals still having to deal with the knock-on effects.

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the "remarkable" work of the NHS during this challenging period must not be taken for granted, and called for long-term support.

She added: “We urge the Government to ensure the NHS has the right levels of staff to build flexibility into the system by providing a fully costed and funded national workforce plan.

"This will help to relieve the pressure on staff, making it easier to cover sickness absences, while ensuring a manageable workload and a better work-life balance."

The NHS figures also show that support staff to doctors, nurses and midwives at Frimley Health were absent most often.

Between March and December, they were sick on a combined 36,711 days – 31 per cent of all staff absences.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is investing £89 billion to support the "record number" of NHS staff working in England, and to help address patient backlogs.

A spokesman added: “We recognise the enormous pressure this pandemic has put on our heroic NHS and social care staff and we are funding dedicated mental health support, including a 24/7 helpline, to provide help to those who need it."