RCN says rise reflects ‘relentless pressure’ faced by employees

Levels of NHS staff sickness absence caused by mental ill-health have more than doubled in the past four years, according to figures obtained by the BBC.

Data acquired via a freedom of information request revealed that 41,112 NHS staff took sick leave for anxiety, stress and depression in 2014, which is a dramatic rise from 20,207 in 2010.

In response, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which represents healthcare staff, said the figures reflected the "relentless pressure" staff were under.

An NHS spokesman said: "Our staff are some of the most hard-working and dedicated people in our country.

"We now have record numbers of nurses and other front-line professionals, but the NHS needs to become better at supporting staff - not least because better staff experience leads to better patient care."

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, agreed there was a need for better staff support.

He said: “NHS staff are now more comfortable than they were at reporting stress and mental health problems. The culture in the NHS has improved demonstrably and there is more specialist support. But we cannot be complacent as progress is uneven and the NHS must keep innovating to endure ever-growing demand on its services.

“NHS staff recently told their biggest survey that their managers are doing more to support their health and well-being. There are over 50 per cent more programmes supporting staff health and well-being now compared to 2010. The rate of sickness absence has fallen in the NHS since 2009, when the current surveys of absence began.

"Frontline work in the NHS is rewarding but it can be emotionally and physically challenging, so it’s vital those staff have the right support.”

But Tim Baggs, from RCN, said the results of an NHS employee survey revealed high levels of stress among medical staff five years ago.

"The [FOI request] figures are a real cause for concern but they don't give us any surprises.

"They really do mirror what we have been hearing from our members and staff surveys about the relentless pressure that nursing staff are under.

"We had what should have been a seismic report five years ago into the health and well-being of NHS staff which recommended that trusts should do more.

"Some have done that but clearly these figures suggest trusts could be doing better."

And Emma Mamo, from charity Mind, highlighted the issue of job losses as a result of funding cuts. She said: "The impact of these cuts, through increased workloads and changes to services, is bound to have an impact on staff morale and wellbeing.

"It's vital that hospitals put in place measures to help promote good mental health at work for all staff."

The NHS employs 1.25 million people across England.