Psychiatric illnesses responsible for over 25% NHS absences

New research shows psychiatric illnesses were named as the primary cause of NHS employees taking time away from work since December 2023.

Experts from, who examined NHS data from December 2023, discovered psychiatric illnesses, which can range from anxiety, stress and depression, caused 25.6% of employees to take time off work. Throughout the entire course of the study researchers found 5.5% of staff were off sick during the period.

woman lying on bed

Upsettingly, these statistics haven’t come as a shock. According to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, one in four people experience mental health issues each year in the UK and 792 million people are affected by bad metal health world-wide. Mental illness is the second-largest source of disease in England and is undoubtedly affecting NHS staff due to the high strain of demand and pressure of their intense and sometimes traumatic working environment.

Within the study, influenza, cold and cough were found to be the cause for 15.3% of absent employees. Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and in extreme cases, can be fatal.

Following this, musculoskeletal issues, which affect muscles, joints, bones and sometimes associated tissues like your nerves, was the second highest contributor to staff absences (8.2%). According to the NHS, over 20 million people in the UK, almost a third of the population, suffer from an MSK condition, most commonly arthritis or back pain.

In addition, gastrointestinal, back problems and infectious diseases have also been cited as some of the driving reasons behind staff having to take long periods off work.

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson from, said: ‘Working in the NHS can be a highly demanding job and there is widespread of workforce shortages and staff burnout due to the consistent pressure put upon them. There are not enough doctors and nurses in the UK to meet the demands of patients and it can take a toll on their health, especially mental health as the data highlights.

‘The NHS is one of the most important services across the nation and without it, the entire UK would struggle to get by. It is vital to bear in mind that key workers also end up as patients at some point in their lives and their health is just as important as anyone else’s.’

Image: Yuris Alhumaydy

More on this topic:

‘Disturbing’ findings show widespread NHS staff have experienced sexual assault at work

Multidisciplinary working in care homes is key for staff and residents

Emily Whitehouse
Writer and journalist for Newstart Magazine, Social Care Today and Air Quality News.


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