Too stressed to work: the scale of mental ill health among NHS staff revealed

Nurses and other workers keep NHS afloat so deserve rapid access to mental health support, says Unison

Nurses and other workers keep NHS afloat so deserve rapid access to mental health support, says Unison

Poor mental well-being is a far bigger problem for NHS staff than colds and flu,
or musculoskeletal conditions. Picture: iStock

Stress, depression, and other mental health problems were the main reason NHS staff took sick days last year.

NHS Digital figure reveals millions of days are lost because of mental ill-health, with the union Unison saying intolerable working conditions are pushing NHS employees to breaking point.

Stress, depression and other mental health conditions

Health service staff in England took 17.7 million days’ sick leave between December 2017 and November 2018. Of these, 4.2 million were recorded as being caused by stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.

The figure is greater than the total for the next two most common reasons for sickness absence combined – musculoskeletal conditions, excluding back problems, and coughs, colds or flu.

Unison deputy head of health, Helga Pile, said: ‘Chronic staff shortages mean NHS employees are routinely asked to do more with fewer resources as they desperately try to keep the service afloat,’ she said.

‘The government urgently needs to invest in the NHS to cut staff shortages and reduce burnout, and workers who have anxiety, depression and stress must get rapid access to mental health support services.’

Staff shortages are leading to burnout, says Unison. Picture: iStock

Perceptions about mental ill health and fitness to practise

Mental health charity Mind’s head of workplace wellbeing, Emma Mamo said healthcare workers faced additional difficulties when disclosing mental health problems to employers.

‘We know there can be particular barriers for healthcare staff when disclosing a mental health problem, such as fears about being deemed unfit to practise,’ she said.

‘Those of us with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, it just means some of us might need extra support from time to time.

‘Attracting and keeping hold of the right workforce, with the right skills, is central to achieving the NHS long-term plan's ambition to improve services.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We offer the most comprehensive national mental health support to doctors of any health system in the world, and are committed to doing similarly with other staff groups.’

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