UK

NHS staff taking time off due to poor mental health continues, new data shows

Poor mental health made up almost a quarter of staff sickness days in the NHS in England in February, new data has shown (Jeff Moore/PA)
Poor mental health made up almost a quarter of staff sickness days in the NHS in England in February, new data has shown (Jeff Moore/PA) Poor mental health made up almost a quarter of staff sickness days in the NHS in England in February, new data has shown (Jeff Moore/PA)

The trend of burnout and other mental health issues being the main cause of sick days for NHS staff has continued, new figures have confirmed.

Statistics from NHS Digital published on Thursday showed poor mental health accounted for almost a quarter of sick days in the health service’s workforce in England in February 2023.

Some 24.6% of staff sickness absences in NHS England were down to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses during the month.

The overall absence rates for February were 5%, down from 5.3% in January and 6.3% in December.

The monthly figures for February also showed regional variations, with the North West reporting the highest sickness absence rates (5.7%) compared with London (4.4%).

Departmentally, ambulance trusts had the highest number of staff off sick in February (7%), while integrated care boards had the lowest (2.9%).

It comes as separate analysis from Nuffield Trust showed a 5.6% average of sickness absences in NHS England in the 2022 calendar year compared to 4.3% in 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisation’s research claims this equates to the loss of 75,000 staff, an increase of 29% over three years.

It also said ambulance staff, ambulance support staff and midwives had the largest rises in sick days in 2022 compared with 2019.

Dr Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at Nuffield Trust, said staff sickness is a “new normal” the “health service is grappling with”.

“The increasing numbers taking time away from work feeds into a seemingly unsustainable cycle of increased work leading to burnout and then more people choosing to leave,” he added.

“There has been a lot of focus on recruitment and bringing staff in or back, but we need more endeavour to improve the working conditions of existing staff and protect them from illness.”

The Government is preparing to publish its long-awaited NHS Workforce Plan this week, which will focus on hiring, retaining and training staff over the next 15 years.

Dr Palmer said: “The NHS workforce plan needs to have concrete support to enable employers to improve NHS staff experience if the service is to break this cycle of staff absences, sickness and leaving rates.”