Hospital staff have been sicker than ever this year because they are not getting the flu jab.
Figures presented to the South Canterbury District Health Board show that 562 days were taken in sick leave in August - equivalent to 18 people every day for the month. It is the highest level of sick leave in a decade.
Board chief executive Chris Fleming said he put the high sick leave rate down to fewer than half the staff getting the flu vaccination.
He said he did not think sickness among staff had caused cancellations to clinics and surgeries, but he was still assessing what could be done to improve uptake next year.
Mr Fleming said high rates of winter illness were also prominent in the community during the same period, which forced a delay in some procedures if patients were ill and their surgery had to be postponed.
The flu vaccination uptake among staff was disappointing, given the fact all DHB employees were offered it for free, he said.
Uptake was particularly low among clinical staff.
"That's something we want to work on."
Mr Fleming, who received the flu vaccination this winter, said clinical staff were more susceptible to being exposed to viruses, and therefore needed to take extra care.
He had considered options to improve uptake in all sectors, including an extension of the time frame people could get the vaccination. He has also considered making it available at all the board's sites.
"I think we should be trying to encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of it."
- The Timaru Herald