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Exclusive: Absence figures reveal extent of depression among nurses

Tens of thousands of NHS nurses have taken time off work due to anxiety, stress or depression, a Nursing Standard investigation reveals.

Tens of thousands of NHS nurses have taken time off work due to anxiety, stress or depression, a Nursing Standard investigation reveals.


Around 11% of 250,000 UK nurses took sick leave in the year to April 2017 due to stress, anxiety or depression. Picture: Alamy

The RCN said understaffing is the cause of the problem, with too few nurses to fill the gaps left by burgeoning vacancies.

Around 11% of the almost 250,000 NHS nurses at 146 NHS organisations across the UK who took sick leave in the year to April 2017 did so due to anxiety, stress or depression.

Sick leave

Nursing Standard’s figures, collected under freedom of information law, show:

  • Nurses were almost three times more likely than doctors to take sick leave for the same conditions.
  • At some workplaces, as many as one in four nurses (24%) had taken anxiety or depression-related sick leave.
  • Some NHS employers said up to one in eight of their nurses had experienced anxiety, stress or depression, but only one in 20 had sought help in the workplace.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said the number of nurses with anxiety, stress or depression might be related to government pay restraint, which has left many £3,000 a year worse off and driven people out of the profession.

‘Understaffing is at the root of these problems,’ said Ms Davies.

‘The pay cap is driving people out of the profession, and there are too few nurses to fill the gaps left by the growing number of vacancies.’

Work-related stress

The findings echo the most recent Labour Force Survey for Great Britain, which found rates of work-related stress were above average for nurses in 2013-16.

This research found nurses presented with 3,010 cases of stress per 100,000 workers, compared to an average of 1,230 cases per 100,000, across all occupational groups.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace well-being at the charity Mind, said: ‘It shines a light on the high prevalence of stress and poor mental health across the profession.

‘It’s not surprising to see that one in ten nurses who have taken time off work did so for anxiety, stress or depression. But it is concerning so few are seeking help from their organisations.

‘This might be because of stigma, which we know can be even greater in healthcare.’

Busy workforce

Chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings said she was conscious of how busy people in nursing, midwifery and the care professions are.

Professor Cummings said: ‘NHS England has put measures in place to help hospitals and providers of NHS care to improve the support they offer to front-line staff.’

But Royal College of Psychiatrists social inclusion lead Jed Boardman said the figures represented ‘a waste of important human resources’, and called for a focus on prevention, adding: ‘Nursing staff health and well-being is important to patient care.’

He said organisations that prioritise staff health show greater patient satisfaction, stronger quality scores, better outcomes, higher levels of staff retention and lower rates of sickness absence.

Further information

Exclusive: One in ten nurse sick days down to stress or depression


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