• More than 348,000 full-time equivalent days taken off because of anxiety, stress, or depression in April 2019
  • Managers and senior managers were most likely to report stress and anxiety as a reason
  • NHS Providers warns trusts cannot overturn sickness trends without fundamentally increasing capacity

NHS managers are most likely to cite stress, anxiety and depression as the cause of their sickness absence, according to the latest NHS data.

New figures from NHS Digital – which for the first time reveal the reasons for sickness absence – show a total of 348,028 working days were lost across the NHS due to anxiety, stress and depression in April alone, almost a quarter of all sickness.

Senior managers and managers were most likely to cite this as a cause of their absence, accounting for 32.5 per cent and 32 per cent of time off respectively – equivalent to 8,152 days lost in April.

Among other staff groups, around a quarter of nurses and health visitors, ambulance staff and scientific staff and clinical support staff reported stress, anxiety and depression as a cause for sickness absence.

Among medics, 24 per cent of specialty registrars cited stress and anxiety as a cause for sickness compared with 22 per cent of consultants.

By contrast, data from the Office of National Statistics shows stress and anxiety accounts for 7 per cent of sickness absences across the UK. 

Overall NHS staff took 1.4 million sick days in April. The second most common reason for absence was musculoskeletal problems, which accounted for 10 per cent of days taken off – more than 146,000 days lost.

The figures come as NHS Digital revealed sickness absence rates in the NHS is increasing from 3.79 per cent in April last year to 4.06 per cent this year.

NHS Providers director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin told HSJ the levels of burnout, stress and sickness absence in the NHS was “undoubtedly a concern”.

“Without fundamentally increasing capacity by improving recruitment and retention, it is challenging for trusts to overturn worrying trends such as sickness absence,” Ms Deakin said. “Trusts are doing all they can to support their workforce, and rightly focusing on staff engagement, inclusivity and building positive working cultures.”

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer told HSJ actions were being taken to improve the offer for NHS staff.

He said: “Some things have already been done or are underway. There was the three-year investment in public sector pay, done and enacted last year. There is a real understanding and obligation on employers to improve the quality in their offer for employees. 

“We have to make sure the jobs are do-able. People have to feel they can do the best for their patients.”

British Medical Association representative body chair Helena McKeown said: “Increasingly, doctors and staff are being expected to deliver care in challenging circumstances and as a result, many are at risk of developing work-related stress, burnout and mental health problems.”

“While these figures are incredibly concerning, they are unfortunately not surprising,” Dr McKeown added.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Royal College of Nursing chief executive, said: “It is not surprising to see so many days of sickness amongst hard pressed nursing staff.”

She noted nurses starting out in their careers often “feel the pressures the most” and “many drop out”.

“Nursing staff understand the pressures time off puts on their colleagues and they will not take sickness absence unless they have been absolutely pushed to the edge,” she added.

The HSJ Transforming Mental Health Summit, taking place at the Hilton Leeds from 28-29 November, unites 120+ senior figures from across the NHS, local authority and wider mental health service delivery landscape to discuss how to realise the visions of the NHS long-term plan and ensure successful local implementation of national priorities. Held under the Chatham House Rule, attendees will quiz Paul Farmer and other national figures on general policy direction and co-develop solutions to their local challenges with NHS and local government colleagues from across the country. The Summit is free to attend for senior NHS and public sector figures – register your interest here for this free to attend forum on our website: https://mentalhealth.hsj.co.uk/register-2019