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A quarter of nurses’ sick days caused by stress

Experts have expressed concern at the data showing ‘dangerous stress levels’ for nurses in the NHS, calling for urgent action by the Government
High rates of nurse absence caused by stress related sickness

Nurses took an average of one week off sick last year because of stress, shows new NHS England data.

An analysis of the figures by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) revealed that sickness because of stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 24.3% of all sick days taken by nursing staff, more than double the prevalence of any other illness.

‘Dangerous stress levels have become normalised inside an NHS which is unable to cope with demand,’ said Professor Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary and chief executive.

Cullen attributed the high stress levels to a ‘chronic workforce shortage’ in the NHS which currently has more than 34,000 nursing posts remaining unfilled.

A hospital nurse in the West Midlands told the RCN that the ‘lack of staff combined with demand for services is a constant worry. It is causing stress and a lack of sleep. I feel low and let down by the system.’

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The RCN analysis also found that financial pressures are affecting staff well-being. Nurses’ pay fell by an average of nearly 25% between 2010-11 and 2023-24.  Almost half of nursing staff who responded to an RCN cost of living survey last month said that their financial concerns are impacting their mental health.

Cullen called on the Government and NHS leaders to ‘take action to ease the pressure and boost recruitment and retention. A long-term workforce plan built on the backs of broken staff isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.’

The Department of Heath and Social Care (DHSC) has acknowledged the challenges faced by NHS staff and said that a recent survey found an improvement in staff morale and experience.

The DHSC added: ‘NHS England has published a strategy to grow occupational health and wellbeing support, and the NHS long-term workforce plan will retain even more staff, meaning there are up to 190,000 more nurses by 2036-37.’