NHS staff mental health crisis revealed as absences soar in pandemic
- Credit: Evening News © 2009
New sickness figures have revealed a hidden mental health crisis within Norfolk’s NHS, with more than 30,000 days lost to depression, anxiety and stress in three months of lockdown.
NHS Digital Data shows 33,106 days were lost to psychiatric illnesses across Norfolk’s six acute, ambulance, community and mental health trusts between April to June this year.
Some trusts saw almost double the numbers of days lost compared to the same three months last year, as staff struggled to cope with the pressures of the first lockdown’s peak.
The county’s trusts have rolled out health and wellbeing programmes for those affected, but unions say it is not enough, with staff having "paid a heavy physical and psychological price".
Meanwhile mental health charity Mind has warned of the damaging effect of the ‘superhero’ narrative, which could prevent some staff asking for help.
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At the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) staff absences because of depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health-related illnesses was 51pc higher between April and June compared to the same time last year, with 7,987 days lost.
Bosses there said staff had gone “above and beyond” and were being encouraged to take breaks during their shifts and use annual leave to recuperate. Workers are also being pointed towards the trust’s dedicated health and wellbeing service.
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At the Queen Elizabeth hospital in King’s Lynn a PTDS lead is being recruited to help staff as figures reveal 90pc more days were lost to mental-health illnesses, with 4,582 days lost in total.
The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston is bringing in new rest areas and wellbeing checks as staff mental health absences added up to 4,771 days lost, a 74pc increase on the same three months in 2019.
The region’s mental health provider, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, lost 15pc more days to staff mental health absences, while the Norfolk Community Heath Trust lost 13pc more. Both trusts also say they have increased wellbeing support and packages.
Although the East of England Ambulance Service lost 7,006 days, the second highest of all Norfolk trusts, its figure was actually 11pc less than the same period last year. Senior ‘Covid leads’ have been introduced to help staff across the service.
But Unison has said increasing wellbeing support isn’t enough on its own and has called for pay rises in place of “nice easy claps”.
Eastern regional organiser Peter Passingham said: “These figures clearly show just how much pressure and stress staff have faced over the last eight months.
“Even as frontline staff fight the second wave they know they’ve got a tougher winter than normal, coupled with delivering the largest vaccination operation the country has ever seen on the horizon.
“No amount of additional wellbeing support can replace the experiences that our NHS staff have faced this last year and what they will do to carry us through this crisis.”
He added: “All of this is with a backdrop of 10 years of government cuts that have caused a dire staffing crisis.
“The government can recognise this and take more action than a nice easy clap by putting a decent pay rise into NHS staff’s pockets as soon as possible.”
Head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind Emma Mamo said healthcare staff had faced tough decisions around their personal lives during the first wave.
"Sometimes they felt conflicted between their duty to patients and their need to protect their family and friends, with some forced to live away from loved ones to minimise the risk of infection," she added.
"Common misconceptions around resilience and immunity to poor mental health – the ‘superhero’ narrative – can actually prevent people asking for support when they need it, particularly from their manager or employer."