The NHS is losing almost a fifth more working days to sickness than before the pandemic.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that nursing staff are on track for their toughest winter yet as sickness absence rates continue to skyrocket.
An analysis by the union reveals that the NHS is losing almost a fifth more working days to sickness than before the pandemic.
Since May 2019, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) days lost for mental health reasons has increased by 31.4%, from 102,491 in 2019 to 134,669 in 2021.
Meanwhile, days lost due to chest and respiratory problems rose by 52.5% (from 10,949 to 16,696) and headaches or migraine rose by 51.9% (from 9,105 to 13,833).
Anxiety, stress or depression remains the most common reason for staff sickness.
The news comes as nursing staff are on track for their worst ever winter, treating the backlog of care, administering an expanded annual influenza programme alongside an ongoing COVID-19 vaccination programme, and seasonal pressures made worse this year by a predicted surge in flu and other infections.
Widespread staffing shortages.
A massive 40,000 registered nursing vacancies combined with increasing sickness rates paint a bleak picture for staff.
The Royal College of Nursing is launching its winter wellbeing campaign to encourage staff to prioritise their own physical and mental health this winter.
Responding to the analysis, RCN Council chair Carol Popplestone said; “Even in a climate of widespread staff shortages which governments have refused to acknowledge, there cannot be a stigma against nurses needing time to take stock. Without challenging it, we don’t just lose nursing staff for a few days, we lose them forever.
“There will be immense pressure on health and care services this winter and services can’t afford to lose safety-critical professionals to avoidable illnesses on top of tens of thousands of nursing vacancies. The risk to our patients is too high to do nothing.
“We want employers to work with us to make sure staff can get the vaccines they’re eligible for, are rested and have breaks, and look after themselves so they can look after patients better.”