NHS Trust sick days due to stress, anxiety, depression and psychiatric illness reach almost 18,000

Hellesdon Hospital, headquarters of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: JAMES B

Hellesdon Hospital, headquarters of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: JAMES BASS - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2009

An NHS Trust suffered almost 18,000 days of staff absence within the last 12 months due to stress, anxiety and depression, a report has revealed.

Mental health issues were the highest known reason for absence across the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) according to a Business Performance Report (BPR) published ahead of yesterday’s Board of Directors meeting at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

In total 17,649 days were lost within a 12 month period due to mental health issues.

The report estimates these absences have cost the Trust £1.58 million over the last 12 months.

In April 2017 stress, anxiety, depression and other psychiatric illnesses made up 28.1% of all absences, a slight decrease on 28.2% reported in March 2017.

The report cites a recent survey by mental health charity MIND of public and private sector 12,000 employees. It revealed on average public sector workers took three days off due to mental health issues in the last year, compared to just one day for private sector workers. In the 12 months leading up to April 2017, sickness days lost to mental health issues averaged four days per employee at the Trust.

Staff numbers may have had an impact on the figure, with recruitment and staff turnover a topic of discussion at yesterday’s meeting.

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A report outlining the Trust’s preparation for its upcoming CQC inspection in July said: “The use of bank and agency staff remains high and inspection events have highlighted this as one of the staff’s major concerns.”

According to the BPR, turnover of staff within the Trust increased from 14.1% in March 2017 to 14.5% in April.

The report said the voluntary turnover rate is only slightly above the Trust’s 10% target at 10.4%, although the figures vary wildly from one service area to another.

It continues: “Looking at this, of most concern are Suffolk East, Suffolk West, Norfolk West and Substance Misuse Services.

“These services have a higher proportion of voluntary leavers due to work/life balance than other services with lower turnover and the localities are therefore being encouraged to explore this with their staff and implement plans to address.”

A spokeswoman for the Trust said: “Stress, anxiety, depression and other psychiatric illness does not only refer to ‘work-related stress’ but covers a wide spectrum of absence reasons.

“In the 12 months from May 2016 to April 2017 only 78 episodes (single periods of absence) of staff absence were reported as being due to work-related stress out of the 562 reported in this overarching category (13.8%).

“Sadly, figures show us that work related stress, depression and anxiety continue to represent significant ill health across the whole UK workforce, where work related stress accounts for around 35% of work related ill health. And this is more prevalent in public service industries, such as health and social care; education; and public administration and defence.

“It is a very difficult time for any member of staff working in the NHS where we see increasing demand upon services and upon the energy and goodwill of our staff members, while we try to expand services and staff numbers, to alleviate some of those pressures.

“And working within a mental health trust has its own unique pressures on the emotional wellbeing of staff.

She added: “It is vital to make any improvements we can to our work environment and to offer as much support as possible.

“It’s our fundamental duty to our staff, and by properly supporting staff wellbeing we can provide even better outcomes for our patients and service users.

“Last year we launched our five-year Staff Wellbeing Strategy which aims to identify key initiatives to help prevent mental ill health among our staff and to better support those who do experience this.

“We provide independent, confidential counselling services and offer training to help managers and staff members recognise and then adopt techniques to take care of themselves or colleagues at times of pressure or stress.

“We have also put measures in place to support staff returning from a period of sickness to ensure they are fully supported in their roles and to help them maintain their health and wellbeing.

“Our policies have also been redeveloped with staff members who had themselves experienced mental ill health.

“In addition, we encourage our staff to support each other in the workplace and we have appointed more than 90 Wellbeing Champions – staff members with a particular interest in health and wellbeing.”