Mental health now the biggest issue in record NHS staff sickness levels

Foundation campaigning for mental health hotline

Mental health accounts for almost a quarter of the record levels of NHS staff absences, according to official data.

The absence rate during 2022 showed the NHS lost the equivalent of nearly 75,000 staff to illness – more than during the coronavirus pandemic.

The figure, analysed by the Nuffield Trust from NHS data for the BBC, is a rise of 29 per cent on 2019 – the last full year before Covid hit.

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The analysis showed that mental health issues was the single top issue, with colds, coughs, respiratory problems and the return of flu after the pandemic accounting for further big rises.

Dr Billy Palmer, the trust’s senior fellow, told the BBC: “The health service is grappling with a difficult new normal when it comes to staff sickness leave.” He said that while there had been a lot of focus on recruitment, more needed to be done to improve the working conditions of existing staff.

“The workforce plan needs to have concrete support to enable employers to improve NHS staff experience if the service is to break this cycle of staff absences, sickness and leaving rates,” he said.

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As not every absence would have been recorded, the trust said the figures were likely to be lower than the true numbers.

The analysis came just days after the Prime Minister hailed his NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which he called the “largest expansion in training and workforce”.

Rishi Sunak told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show: “We’re going to do something that no government has ever done.

“It’s going to be one of the most significant announcements in the history of the NHS, and that is to make sure that it has a long-term workforce plan so that we can hire the doctors, nurses and GPs that we need, not just today, but for years into the future, to provide the care that we all need.”

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