A crackdown on absenteeism saw 23 Birmingham social services staff sacked after failing to convince managers that they were really ill.

Just under a third of cases coming before city council attendance panels result in carers on long-term sick leave being fired, new figures reveal.

Sickness rates in the Adults and Communities department, which are running at an average of three weeks a year for each employee, have been condemned as “unacceptable” by council bosses. More than 70 members of staff have been hauled before disciplinary hearings since October last year, with 23 being sacked as a result. Others agreed to return to work, were redeployed elsewhere in the council or were granted ill-health retirement.

About 10 per cent of the department’s 4,500 workforce is off sick at any one time. The average of 15.6 sick days per employee far outstrips the council’s target of 9.7 days.

Three-quarters of those off work are classified as long-term absentees, with illnesses lasting for more than a month. The problem is at its greatest in the older adults unit, where carers look after vulnerable elderly people at home. Home helps take an average 17 days a year off sick, with anxiety, stress and depression most likely to be the reason given for failing to work.

Back problems and injuries sustained at work are also high on the list of reasons for sickness. The trend toward higher levels of absenteeism, with a significant increase during the summer, has also been put down to an ageing workforce.

Adults and Communities head of human resources, Mira Gola, said management were regularly monitoring individual cases and an “employee wellbeing stress reduction action plan” was being put in place.

In a briefing note to a scrutiny committee, Ms Gola said: “The directorate’s management team recognise that current sickness levels are unacceptable and are committed to taking continuing decisive action to drive sickness levels down.

“Through both managing attendance panels and local performance boards line managers are being encouraged to progress sickness cases to final case hearings where appropriate.Tackling sickness will not be either easy or quick. Our workforce profile shows an ageing, mainly female workforce, often with associated health problems. Many of our front line staff also have their own caring responsibilities.”

Figures published by the council show that sickness in the deskbound social services finance department is running at 13 days a year.

Bristol tops the adult social services sickness leave, with an average 20 days a year. Sandwell, Manchester, Newcastle and Warwickshire all have higher illness rates than Birmingham.