Mental illness driving NHS staff absences in Scotland

Mental illness driving NHS staff absences in Scotland.

Poor mental health is among the leading reasons for NHS staff sickness absences in Scotland, new figures reveal as concerns grow over workplace pressures.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request carried out by the Scottish Liberal Democrats shows that since 2016, more than 45 million hours of NHS staff time in Scotland have been lost to illness.

As part of this, 12 out of 14 health boards in the country reported “anxiety, depression, other psychiatric illness” as the most common reason for staff absences. The exceptions were Western Isles and Highland, which listed mental health issues as one of the top three reasons for absence.

James O’Connell, Unite regional industrial officer, said the new figures were “truly alarming”.

“The fact that mental health issues were cited as the number one cause further highlights the level of pressure and stress workers in the NHS are experiencing on an ongoing basis,” he said.

“The job done by health care workers is not easy and these pressures are manifold when the service is not sufficiently funded and there are too few nurses and doctors to run the service properly.”

In total, the FoI revealed there had been 45,066,655 hours of staff absence because of illness since 2016.

In 2016, there were 11.6 million hours lost, which then rose to 13.4 million in 2017 and 13.7 million in 2018 all because of staff sickness.

Figures released for 2019 do not yet paint a complete picture of the number of hours lost because health boards could not provide data for the full year.

However, as it stands, the tally for last year shows more than 6.2 million hours were lost to sickness.

Mr O’Connell added: “It is vital that NHS managers get to the bottom of these figures and take immediate steps to address the issues that are causing these pressures on workers; pressures which could impact on patient care.”

He noted that the union had called for an increase in nurses and for the provision of mental health training to be made a priority across Scotland.

Reacting to the figures, Eileen McKenna, associate director at the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said a “culture change” was needed that recognised staff wellbeing as key to national and local nursing workforce strategies.

“Nursing staff across health and social care are under a huge amount of pressure at work,” she added.

“Stress, low pay and regularly having to work more than contracted hours means that their own wellbeing suffers.

“Our recent member survey highlighted that nurses and nursing support workers are feeling the strain. The personal stories of tears and worries over care left undone are hard to bare.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said working on the frontline of the NHS was a “rewarding but sometimes harrowing job”.

“These figures reveal the toll that mental ill health is having on the very staff who have dedicated their careers to looking after others,” he said.

“The fact that the number one reason for staff absence is mental health conditions should make the Scottish Government pause and think again.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said sickness absence rates in NHS Scotland had “remained broadly stable since 2007” at around 5%.

He said NHS staff safety and wellbeing was “of the highest priority” and assured that the government would “continue to engage with medical staff to agree further changes to ensure that staff are well rested, fit for work and achieve a good work/life balance”.

The spokesman added that health boards “provide a wide range of services that support the psychological wellbeing of staff, including counselling, employee assistance programmes, and occupational health support”.

He said the Scottish Government was working in partnership with the British Medical Association and health boards to “continuously improve the working lives of our medical staff”.

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This article was originally published in Nursing Times. Click here to view the original article.

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Mental illness driving NHS staff absences in Scotland.

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