NHS staff are almost four times as likely to be absent from work with stress as people with other occupations, and nurses are the most stressed of all, Nursing Times can reveal.
Workforce data on 30,000 staff working across 17 NHS trusts shows stress and associated psychiatric problems accounted for as much as 15% of all days lost due to sickness absence in 2008.
This compares with 4% of days lost in the same year due to stress among 40,000 staff, working across a range of other occupations –in both the public and private sector – including education, manufacturing, retail and local government.
The figures were produced by FirstCare, an absence management company, which carried out an exclusive analysis of its data for Nursing Times.
Staff working for FirstCare’s clients are required to call the company’s call centre instead of their line manager. The reason for their absence is then logged by FirstCare and employees are referred to a nurse who can offer advice or arrange treatment.
Overall, the company’s figures for 2008 show that NHS staff took an average of 10.9 days off sick, compared with 8.7 days among non-NHS staff.
A further analysis of last year’s figures looked in depth at absence within the 17 NHS trusts, comparing 7,500 nursing with 22,800 non-nursing staff from all levels, from doctors to HCAs.
Within the health service, it suggested that nurses experienced higher levels of stress-related absence than other staff. But perhaps unsurprisingly – given the prevalence of lifting injuries among nurses – the data showed nurses took the most days off for musculoskeletal problems (see above).
Aaron Ross, director of FirstCare, said: ‘Musculoskeletal is a big one for nursing. Quite often nurses are going back to work without full recovery, as a result these are turning into a more sustained condition.’
Kim Sunley, RCN senior employment relations adviser, said the NHS had worked hard to reduce moving and handling injuries among nurses and other staff but added that nurses regularly topped polls as a profession facing one of the highest levels of stress.
The RCN will be holding series of workshops around the country, in conjunction with NHS Employers, to look at stress among nurses and how it can be tackled, she said.
Additionally, Ms Sunley said she hoped that a joint Department of Health and NHS review of the health and well-being of the NHS workforce – launched in February – would produce serious recommendations on how stress-related problems could be reduced in the NHS.
A spokesperson for Unison said comparisons between the sickness records of nurses and those in other employment settings were difficult because of the wide variation in the types of jobs staff carried out.
‘People in the NHS would agree that it is a tough job, which can be emotionally and mentally demanding, and there can come a time when the stress means that staff have to take time off,’ she said.
Looking after the well-being of nurses is one of the pledges made in the new NHS Constitution, launched last summer, with the NHS Next Stage Review. The health of nurses and other NHS staff was also the focus of another government report published last week.
The report Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: One Year On outlined progress on the government’s cross-department strategy on tackling obesity, launched in January 2008, and set priorities for ‘future work to enable everyone in society to maintain a healthy weight’.
Among its recommendations it encouraged overweight nursing staff to set a good example to the rest of the population on obesity by taking action to lose weight.
‘The public sector should lead both as an example of government action and due to the large numbers it employs,’ stated. ‘We need to prioritise how to best improve the health and well-being of NHS staff, with an initial focus on nurses, midwives and health visitors,’ it said.