Stressed-out NHS staff in record absence time

A quarter of doctor sick day are due to mental issues. Picture: Jon Savage
A quarter of doctor sick day are due to mental issues. Picture: Jon Savage
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UNDER-PRESSURE NHS workers are taking a record amount of time off due to psychological disorders such as stress or depression, new figures have revealed.

While overall sickness rates have fallen at NHS Lothian in the past five years, the amount of time off taken because of mental conditions has almost doubled.

The latest statistics, released under Freedom of Information legislation, show that almost a quarter of days off taken by workers including doctors and nurses are now due to mental issues such as stress, anxiety or depression.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said the findings “lifted the lid” on the day-to-day experiences of frontline staff.

She said: “After the waiting times scandal was exposed it’s been clear that NHS Lothian is struggling to staff key services. The last thing we need is an increase in stress-related 
sickness.”

While the overall sickness absence rate dropped to 4.26 per cent in 2012-13 from 4.84 per cent in 2008-9, absence due to stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions rose from 0.47 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland said the rise was worrying.

Professional officer Lynn McDowall said: “Stresses and strains of working in the NHS means that it has a relatively high level of staff sickness. But nurses are also feeling the strain in their domestic lives, given the enduring problems in the economy.

“Health boards have made some progress in protecting staff health and wellbeing but more needs to be done.”

Ruth Kelly, associate director of human resources at NHS Lothian, said that free medical support and a counselling service were available to staff. She added: “Staff health is of vital importance to NHS Lothian, and we are very pleased to see a reduction in the total sickness absence rate.

“The most recent absence figures do, however, show a slight increase for mental health-related absence such as stress or anxiety. Regardless of the cause, be it personal, financial or work related, we are keen to support staff who may be suffering and offer training to help identify and manage stress issues.”