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Stress-related absence on the rise among NHS staff in Scotland

Figures from 15 Scottish health boards show more than a million work days lost over past three years due to conditions such as anxiety and depression 

Figures from 15 Scottish health boards show more than a million work days lost over past three years due to conditions such as anxiety and depression  


Picture: Neil O’Connor

Stress-related absence among NHS staff in Scotland is rising, leading the RCN to call for assurances on safe staffing levels.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Labour Party show staff took 417,740 days off for stress, anxiety or depression in 2017-18 – a rise of 17.6% on 2015-16, when 355,212 days were taken off for these reasons. In the intervening year, 2016-17, this figure was 381,456 days. 

Fifteen Scottish health boards responded to freedom of information requests for the data, which also include ‘other psychiatric illness’ as a reason for time away.

‘Pushed to the limit’

Scottish Labour says the figures show that more than one million work days were lost over the three-year period, adding to pressure across the health service.

Shadow health and sport secretary Monica Lennon says: ‘It’s obvious that people working in the NHS are being pushed to the limit, often delivering high levels of care to the detriment of their own health and well-being.’

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe says: ‘For too long, nursing staff have had to deal with increased demands on their time while also battling chronic staff shortages.

‘With the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill before the Scottish Parliament, MSPs have the opportunity to enshrine safe staffing levels in law. This is an opportunity which must be taken for the well-being of staff and the safety of patients.’

Workload and workforce planning tools

The bill does not mandate minimum staff-to-patient ratios. However, it does require NHS boards and care services to use nationally agreed nursing and midwifery workload and workforce planning tools.

Commenting on Labour's findings, a spokesperson for Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman says: 'We take the welfare of hardworking NHS staff very seriously, and every health board is required to have robust policies in place when it comes to the mental health and well-being of employees.


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