The British Psychological Society (BPS) has urged the Government to make NHS staff well-being an ‘urgent priority’ as new figures show a 32% increase in the number of full time days lost to anxiety, stress, depression, and psychiatric illness in NHS staff in the last two years.
The analysis of NHS Digital data by the BPS has found that anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illness accounted for 561,818 full time equivalent days lost in November 2021, compared to 425,429 in November 2019.
Anxiety, stress, depression, and other psychiatric illness is consistently the most reported reason for sickness absence, accounting for 25.7 per cent of all sickness absence in NHS staff in November 2021
The BPS is concerned that NHS staff wellbeing is being left behind in the desire to ‘move on’ from the pandemic, despite the number of Covid hospital admissions rising, and clear psychological evidence that shows staff are only likely to begin processing the trauma of the last two years now, meaning support is more vital than ever.
Unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, England does not currently have direct ministerial involvement in NHS staff wellbeing, with variability and inconsistency in the level and type of support offered across the NHS. While some Trusts offer excellent support, a lack of basic support including proper rest-rooms, access to hot meals and drinks, and cancelling of some annual leave requests is deeply concerning.
Dr Roman Raczka, chair of the BPS’ Division of Clinical Psychology, said: ‘These figures make it crystal clear the level of stress that our NHS staff are under, and the significant personal health cost to staff from not just the last two years, but years of staffing shortages and chronic underfunding.
‘It is vital that the Government prioritises proper staff support and wellbeing, and uses examples of good practice that are happening in some trusts, to not only prevent absences, but also to retain staff and increase morale the NHS looks to rise to the huge challenges that lie ahead as it tackles the growing backlog.
‘Only as staff begin to process what they have been through in the last two years, will we see the true level of those needing help and support. We urge the government not to allow its optimism this spring to lead to complacency and lack of action to properly support staff across all areas of the NHS.’
The BPS has also raised concerns about the lack of psychologists in the health service to deliver crucial staff support, and has reiterated its calls for the Government to tackle workforce shortages with increased funding, recruitment, and support.