May 21, 2024

Mental Illness Keeping England’s Health Staff Off Sick

Depression, stress, anxiety and other forms of mental illness are keeping more healthcare staff off sick in England than any other type of illness, official figures show.

Almost a quarter of absences (24.2%) in the country’s public health service were linked to mental health issues in March, according to the data published this week.

This is more than twice the proportion of absence caused by the colds, coughs or fly, which at 11.2% were behind the next highest number of lost working days.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at industry group NHS Providers, said the data was “deeply concerning” and “lays bare the psychological strain on staff right across” the National Health Service.

Employees at acute, mental health, community and ambulance services are battling “staff shortages, rising operational pressures and growing demand” — all of which, she added, were taking their toll on wellbeing.

With waiting lists already high and rising ahead of the pandemic, the NHS was hit particularly hard by covid-19. Population changes, a lack of adequate social care are just some of the factors in the crises currently facing both emergency services and planned care.

Experts say “political choices” and chronic underfunding meant the health system was already vulnerable when covid-19 struck.

Many staff have faced highly pressurised working conditions, even as the pandemic has eased, with demand for health and social care now significantly outstripping supply.

This has taken place against a backdrop of rising living costs in the U.K., leading to industrial action from many staff group. While strikes by nurses and ambulance staff have largely come to a stop, doctors and radiographers are still in the midst of action.

While they aim to ensure better pay and working conditions, in the short term, each walk-out leads to even thinner staff cover and the cancellation of tens of thousands of appointments. For patients, this means even longer wait times. For staff, it means even greater pressures on those still working.

The number of mental health absences has fallen slightly in this latest set of monthly results, but it remains significantly higher than in last autumn, when staff were first voting to strike.

These absence figures will be no suprise to NHS leaders and employees, many of whom are burnt out from working in crisis mode for much of the last three years. A recent report on ambulance staff described “serious distress” and “extreme emotion” among workers struggling to serve patients in need.

In response to this latest set of absence figures, Deakin said in a statement that hospital leaders “are doing everything they can to help the health and wellbeing of staff and to cover sickness absences.”

But “a lack of funding” was making it harder to support their employees. Wellbeing hubs were closing across the country, she added “leaving many NHS staff without much-needed access to crucial mental health services.”

She added: “It is vital that additional support is provided so that staff across the NHS receive the support they need.”

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