Staff mental health sick days surge – and cost NHS more than £460m in a year
Mental health sick days cost the NHS almost half a million pounds as staff anxiety and stress levels haved skyrocketed.
Costs have almost doubled compared to before the pandemic from £279 million to £468 million.
It comes as the NHS faced its biggest-ever strike action this week as both nurses and ambulance workers on picket lines on Monday.
Healthcare leaders have become increasingly vocal over concerns over working conditions and pay with further strikes from members of Unison set to take place on Friday and junior doctors on course for a three-day strike later this year.
The sickness data shared with The Independent by GoodShape, an employee well-being and performance analysis company, shows the number of staff sick days increased in 2022 to 12 million from 7.21 million in 2019. That is despite the overall number of people working in the NHS increasing from 1.2 to 1.3 million.
The overall cost to the NHS of absences for the five most common reasons – which includes mental health – increased to a “staggering” £1.85 billion from £1.01 billion between 2019 to 2022, according to figures from GoodShape.
Covid was still the most common reason for staff sickness last year, according to the analysis, accounting for 4.4 million lost days, while mental health was a close second driving 3 million days off due to illness.
Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary for the Royal College of Nursing said in response: “These figures are shocking but not surprising. With 47,000 vacant nurse posts in England alone, the pressures on staff are unrelenting.
“When every shift is short staffed and when you’re always fighting against the tide while you desperately try to keep patients safe, your mental health will of course suffer dramatically.
“Added to that is the utter turmoil that nurses faced during the pandemic which many are still struggling with – and the cost of living crisis which means people are living on a financial knife edge.
“All of this costs the health service money in the days that are lost to sickness – money that could be invested in our NHS and in giving nurses the pay rise they deserve.”
Last year, The Independent reported that staff “burnout” was set to cause NHS sickness rates to triple in 2022.
According to the latest published data on NHS absences, 25 per cent of recorded sick days were due to stress and anxiety and it was the most common reason for staff being off.
Estimates by GoodShape, based on figures extrapolated from 43,000 staff records, suggest the number of sick days for mental health rose from 2.2 million in 2019 and 2.8 million to 3 million in 2022.
However, the analysis suggests mental health was the leading cause of sickness in 2019 before Covid took over.
According to the analysis, cold and flu symptoms drove 440, 921 sick leave days in December last year, while mental health issues – which was the second highest number of absences – caused 293,320 sick days.
It comes as the NHS faces its toughest winter on record with the worst-ever ambulance and A&E delays seen.
Alun Baker, chief executive officer for GoodShape said: “Illness, ongoing strikes and staff shortages are leaving workers exhausted, stressed, and broken – these figures are a stark reminder of the pressures the NHS is facing. As one of the world’s biggest employers, the NHS is responsible for not only its patients but the well-being of over one million UK employees.
“We know the reality of waiting lists, service failures and strikes, but do we talk about the health of the NHS’s staff? Without a fit workforce, this precious organisation will struggle to pull itself back from the precipice.”
He added: “Employee wellbeing and productivity are inextricably linked, and without intervention and better support for staff, service capacity will fall even further. Ultimately, planning procedures, effective planning around contingency, and the need for bank labour depends on hospitals and trusts being able to answer one basic question: who exactly, will turn up to work tomorrow?”
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