Nearly a quarter of staff absence at Black Country hospital trusts over past year was stress-related
Nearly a quarter of staff absences at Black Country hospital trusts over the past year were stress-related, new figures show.
It comes as a health think tank has called for staff shortages across the NHS to be addressed to ease stress and heavy workloads.
NHS Digital figures show there were roughly 25,200 full-time equivalent days lost due to stress-related absences in the year to June at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust – accounting for 25.7 per cent of the total 98,200 days lost.
There were around 22,300 full-time equivalent days lost due to the same reason at The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust – 23.6 per cent of the total 94,500 days lost.
At Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust there were roughly 35,300 full-time equivalent days lost. That accounted for 23.3 per cent of the total 151,500 days lost.
Over 22.5 per cent of the total 184,200 days lost at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust were due to stress, with 41,600 full-time equivalent days lost.
The percentage of staff absences had risen at the Sandwell trust from 2021-22, but fell elsewhere in the Black Country.
The figures cover all professionally qualified clinical staff, clinical support staff, and infrastructure support staff who were absent due to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses.
Health bosses said staff were working in pressured environments but were also being offered support in a range of ways.
A spokesperson for the four Black Country trusts of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton said: “Our committed and hard-working staff are our greatest asset, and their health and wellbeing are of the utmost importance to us.
“Our teams worked tirelessly through the Covid-19 pandemic, which was an extremely stressful period that had a lasting effect on colleagues and their families, and they continue to work in pressured environments as demand for our healthcare services remains high.
"The cost of living crisis is also having a significant impact on our wider communities.
“Our health and wellbeing teams across the trusts work with a range of partners to be able to offer a host of support for staff – this includes financial advice, stress management, access to food banks and subsidised meals, help with childcare costs and opportunities to take time out of their busy workplaces to be in a quiet, safe space.
"We provide some one-to-one sessions as well as group sessions on topics such as mindfulness with support both face-to-face, and virtual.
“In addition, our chaplaincy teams support staff and carry out regular health and wellbeing visits across the organisations.
"These are available to all, regardless of whether staff have a faith. Details of organisations that can help are also made available which is particularly important to our staff who may only work evenings and weekends.”
Alex Baylis, The King's Fund assistant director of policy, said the Health and Safety Executive has found health and care staff consistently report higher rates of work-related stress. He added a key cause of this stress is "chronic excessive workload".
He said: "Workload pressure can particularly come from things like working extra hours, or managing a higher number of patients, because of staff shortages.
"It can build up if that’s the situation day after day. And it can be exacerbated by things like working across chaotic teams or processes, not having the equipment that’s needed, not having breaks, or unsupportive managers."
While leadership at team level is essential in supporting staff, Mr Baylis added the overall NHS staff shortages must be addressed.
"Although everyone wants to reduce the current long waiting times as quickly as possible, that must not override the need for a culture of supportive management and supervision," he said.
Across all NHS England organisations, 6.1 million full-time equivalent days were lost to stress-related staff absences. They made up nearly a quarter (23.9 per cent) of all days lost in the year to June.
It is relatively in line with the year prior but down significantly from 27.7 per cent in 2020-21.
Overall, 25.5 million days were lost to staff absences in 2022-23, marking a fall from 26.6 million days the year before.
Dr Billy Palmer, Nuffield Trust senior fellow, said the high sickness absence rate in the NHS adds to costs and disruptions to care.
"If staff who are off sick cannot be covered by temporary staffing, this has a direct impact on those receiving care, and those stuck on waiting lists waiting for care."
He added: "The level of staff sickness related to mental illness, anxiety and stress, which are bundled together in this data, is a troubling indicator of the pressure being experienced by NHS workers."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are hugely grateful to NHS staff for their hard work and their health and wellbeing is of paramount importance.
"For those staff that need it, the NHS provides physical and mental health support – including targeted psychological support and treatment."
They added the long term workforce plan, backed by £2.4 billion in government funding, focuses on recruiting and retaining more staff to make the NHS the "best place to work".