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Nurses’ stress-related absences up 20% from pre-COVID levels

NHS Digital data show mental health is biggest reason for nurses' days off, with over 128,000 days lost in February 2022 as COVID effects continue to be felt

NHS Digital data show mental health is biggest reason for nurses' days off, with over 128,000 days lost in February 2022 as COVID effects continue to be felt

Stress-related sickness among nurses has increased by 20% since before the pandemic, with more than 128,000 days lost in February 2022 alone and nurses ‘left broken due to workload’.

The latest data from NHS Digital show that anxiety, stress, depression or other mental-health related illness were the biggest cause of absence among nurses and health visitors, accounting for 22.2% of absences in England.

Nurses forced to work unpaid overtime in a ‘toxic culture’

NHS Digital data show mental health is biggest reason for nurses' days off, with over 128,000 days lost in February 2022 as COVID effects continue to be felt

NHS Digital data show mental health is biggest reason for nurses' days off, with over 128,000 days lost in February 2022 as COVID effects continue to be felt
Picture: iStock

Stress-related sickness among nurses has increased by 20% since before the pandemic, with more than 128,000 days lost in February 2022 alone and nurses ‘left broken due to workload’.

The latest data from NHS Digital show that anxiety, stress, depression or other mental-health related illness were the biggest cause of absence among nurses and health visitors, accounting for 22.2% of absences in England.

Nurses forced to work unpaid overtime in a ‘toxic culture’

The figures, published on Thursday 30 June, show 128,161 days were lost in February 2022 compared to 107,237 in February 2020.

One nurse, who was off sick for four months in 2021 due to stress and anxiety directly related to ‘unworkable demands’ and COVID-19 pressures told Nursing Standard they felt ‘mentally and physically broken and that I had failed in my role’.

‘I repeatedly escalated my workload concerns to my line manager but these were not listened to at all,’ said the nurse, who was routinely working 35 hours a week unpaid overtime.

‘We had a senior manager who was heard to repeatedly say: "We work them until we break them, then we replace them". It was a toxic culture.

‘I felt guilty, but I had no choice, my position was untenable and unsustainable, so I took sick leave. When I came back nothing had changed.’

Spotting the signs of stress and offering support

The absence figures also revealed that nurses lost more than 12,400 days to headaches and migraines, 33,900 to gastrointestinal problems and 52,800 to chest and respiratory problems.

But stress and anxiety remain the most common reasons for days off, with 482,523 days lost in February in England across all staff groups.

The NHS Staff Council has published guidance to help managers identify if individuals or their team might be stressed and how to support them.

Common signs of stress in a team include high turnover of staff, high absence rate, regular arguments and tension, more complaints, and grievances.

Workforce is feeling the impact of COVID-19

But the RCN said that more needs to be done to support the enormous workloads on nursing staff.

‘The pressure on nursing shows no sign of abating,’ said RCN director for England Patricia Marquis.

‘Not only has COVID-19 taken its toll, but the workforce crisis is putting huge strain on nursing as it struggles to provide safe and effective care for ever-rising numbers of patients who are feeling the impact.’

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