Nearly 7,000 NHS staff sick days in England last year due to drug or alcohol misuse

Alcohol charity says a climate of openness and support is vital 

Alcohol charity says a climate of openness and support is vital 

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NHS staff took almost 7,000 full-time equivalent days of sick leave because of drug or alcohol misuse last year, new figures reveal.

Nurses, doctors and other health service staff in England were included in the data released by NHS Digital.

Figures shine a light on substance misuse

Between December 2017 and November 2018, NHS employees across England were absent from work due to substance misuse for 6,913 full-time equivalent days.

The data does not distinguish between sick leave taken by staff responsible for patient care and that taken by those who carry out administrative and managerial duties.

A total of 107 NHS trusts and three clinical commissioning groups in England recorded staff absences due to substance misuse.

Using alcohol as a coping mechanism

The charity Alcohol Change UK’s senior research and policy manager Mark Leyshon said people may drink to cope with work-related stress and other pressures.

‘Drinking to manage stress may be common, but that doesn’t mean it works - it may even increase anxiety in the longer term,’ he said.

‘It also affects work performance, resulting in absenteeism, impaired decision-making and damaged relations with co-workers. And in the vital roles carried out by NHS employees, these performance problems have a particularly concerning potential impact.’

Providing a ‘safe and healthy working environment’

Mr Leyshon added that the NHS must create an environment where staff are not pushed towards substance misuse, and where support is put in place for anyone who needs it.

‘The starting point is to provide a safe and healthy working environment, including one in which staff are not overworked,’ he said.

‘Employers should create a climate of openness that is more about identifying problems and encouraging people towards support, and less about punishment.’

Responding to the data, a spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement said: ‘Health service staff struggling with drug and alcohol problems deserve compassionate support like anyone else, which is why the NHS has set up programmes such as the GP Health Service that can help them.’

‘However, patient safety is paramount, and if a staff member were to come to work under the influence they would be subject to well-established disciplinary procedures.’

The spokesperson added that for nurses and doctors this could include scrutiny by professional regulators.

View the sickness absence data

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