The NHS could save money by becoming a more “humane” employer, according to Sainsbury Centre chief executive Angela Greatley.

Ms Greatley was speaking at a Labour Party conference fringe event discussing how the recession would affect health inequalities.

Responding to a question from a member of the audience, she said the credit crunch would lead to an increase in mental health problems. Employers needed to support people to stay in work as this was the best way to manage mental health conditions.

In particular, the NHS had room for improvement in the way it treated its staff, she said.

She said: “The NHS isn’t a good employer of people with mental health problems. It could save a huge amount of money by treating its own people in a more humane way. The NHS must get its own house sorted.”

Her comments follow the publication of the Boorman health and wellbeing review interim report in August, which said NHS trusts could save millions by reducing working days lost to illnesses, including mental health problems.