Huge rise in anxiety amongst NHS staff at Wigan's hospitals

Staff absence due to stress and anxiety rocketed by more than 80 per cent at Wigan’s hospitals during the first coronavirus wave, figures show.

Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 11:15 am

Borough health chiefs today acknowledged the upsurge, saying that those who had been deployed to other roles during the pandemic had been particularly badly hit, but measures were being taken to mitigate the problems during these “worrying and difficult times”.

Mental health charity Mind said it is “worrying but not surprising” that mental health sick days among NHS staff increased across England when the crisis hit, as many frontline workers were forced to spend time isolated from their families.

And with the country in the grip of a second wave – and further tight restrictions – unions are calling for the Government to invest in increasing NHS workforce levels and staff pay to boost the morale of “exhausted health workers”.

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There has been a large rise in staff sickness at Wigan hospitals due to stress and anxiety

NHS Digital data shows the equivalent of 35,326 full-time staff days were lost due to sickness at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust between April and June.

Of these, 10,270 (29 per cent) were because of stress, anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses.

That was an increase of 83 per cent compared to the same period last year, when 5,609 days were lost for these reasons.

Across England, the number of mental health sick days among NHS staff rose to nearly 1.5 million between April and June, up from 1.1 million in the same period last year.

Sara Gorton, head of health at public sector union Unison, said healthcare workers have “paid a heavy physical and psychological price” to keep the NHS running.

“Staff shortages, while dealing with the backlog of cancelled operations from the spring, and the stress and trauma of working through the pandemic have hit hard,” she added. “Kind words and applause can only go so far. The Government should do the right thing next week and boost morale with a significant pay rise before Christmas. This would make the world of difference to staff and the NHS during this punishing second wave.”

Susan Masters, director of nursing, policy and public affairs at the Royal College of Nursing, said a rise in the levels of staff needing to take time off for stress and anxiety during the pandemic “should come as no surprise”.

She added that fundamental investment is needed to “grow a depleted workforce” and avoid a further increase in stress and sickness levels.

Stress, anxiety and depression was the most common reason for sickness absence at WWL between April and June, followed by unknown causes (15 per cent) and other causes not specified elsewhere (10).

James Baker, WWL’s deputy director of human resources, said: “At Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) we have seen our levels of staff absence increase across all services, including a significant increase attributed to stress and anxiety.

“It remains a worrying and difficult time for many of our staff, particularly those that have been redeployed into other roles to support the pandemic effort.

“To support those redeployed, we ensure all staff have a named supervisor, receive regular communication, take regular rest and annual leave, and are informed about their return from redeployment at the earliest opportunity.

“We also continue to offer SOS rooms, staffed by trained personnel and debriefing arrangements, an employee assistance programme, mindfulness and resilience programmes and counselling provision for any staff that require this.

“We now have additional resource in our psychological support team, in recognition of the long term impacts of the pandemic and the ongoing requirement to support staff.”

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said many healthcare staff had told the charity they 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.”

An NHS spokesperson said more than 400,000 NHS workers accessed a health and wellbeing programme encouraging staff to look after their physical and mental health during the first wave.

They added: “NHS staff have worked tirelessly to protect the health of the nation throughout this pandemic and it is vital that they are looked after too, which is why the NHS is investing an extra £15 million to expand and strengthen mental health support services available to staff.”

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