Labour urges action as NHS staff lose 500,000 days to mental illness

Andrew Kersley
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has urged the government to do more to support NHS workers after new figures revealed that staff took over 500,000 mental health sick days in May alone.

The shadow mental health minister said the figures should serve as a “wake up call” for the government and called on the Health Department to meet with her to discuss urgent measures to support NHS workers.

Anxiety, stress, depression and other mental illnesses accounted for 510,281 full-time equivalent sick days in May according to NHS figures, making up 28.3% of all sickness absences that month.

For comparison, Covid-related absences accounted for just under 10% fewer sick days than mental health, with only 340,900 days lost as a result of infection by the novel coronavirus.

Commenting on the statistics, Allin-Khan said: “These statistics must serve as a wakeup call for the government. At a time when Covid-19 related sickness absences were going down, mental ill-health absences were soaring.

“Our health and care staff have sacrificed so much during this pandemic – it demonstrates why Labour’s ‘Care for Carers’ package is so vital. Dedicated mental health support should be available for all health and care staff.

“Since launching the package in June, I have requested meetings with the government – it is a disgrace that this offer has not been taken up. I urge the government to reconsider our offer.

“Ahead of winter and a second spike, the government must learn the lessons of this spring. We must fight for the mental health of those who have supported us so courageously during this crisis.”

The shadow cabinet member launched her ‘Care for Carers’ campaign in June to push the government to adopt policies to support the mental health of the over three million NHS staff who have been fighting Covid.

It called on the government to offer carers:

  1. “A new national hotline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  2. “Follow-up support, including specialist assessments and referrals
  3. “Intervention and treatment, including specialised PTSD support
  4. “Follow-up and sign-posted to external services, such as alcohol and addiction services”

At the launch of the programme, Allin-Khan said: “Many NHS and social care staff have been scared of going to work, and they have lost patients and colleagues. It has been heartbreaking to witness the toll this virus has taken on staff mental health.”

The Labour frontbencher and doctor previously warned the government of a “pending mental health crisis” among the general population after a BMJ report showed a significant increase in the number of people suffering from mental health problems.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed he is in “regular contact” with mental health services, but a freedom of information (FOI) request filed by Allin-Khan this month showed this had not been the case during the early lockdown period.

The FOI revealed that the Department of Health and Social Care had only met with NHS mental health trusts and other groups twice during the first three months of lockdown, and Hancock refused to confirm if he had attended either meeting.

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