As nurses and ambulance workers in England walk out today (Monday 6 February) on strike, analysis has highlighted just how widespread burnout and stress is among doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health staff.
The investigation by The Observer newspaper has concluded burnout and stress has cost the NHS in England more than 15 million working days since March 2020, about 50% more than the days lost to Covid infections and self-isolation.
The analysis of NHS sickness figures showed that, between March 2020 (the month of the first Covid lockdown) and last September, 15.4 million working days were lost because of stress-related absences.
This compared with 9.8 million days lost from staff who were required to self-isolate or were ill with Covid.
Some of the workers with the highest rates of sickness from stress were ambulance staff, who are routinely delayed getting to urgent calls because of long waits to hand over patients at hospitals, the paper highlighted.
Nurses in the Royal College of Nursing are striking today and tomorrow (Tuesday 7 February), and are also being joined by ambulance workers.
Burnout and stress
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health and social care, told The Observer: “These figures are a staggering reminder of the pressures NHS staff are under. When dedicated workers are pushed to the brink, it not only severely impacts their wellbeing, but also increases the risk of mistakes being made. No one should have to work when they are exhausted.
“The shortage of healthcare workers, combined with the immense pressure they are under, is a recipe for disaster.”
The analysis showed that, in most of the months where staff were battling the pandemic, stress, anxiety and other mental health-related illnesses accounted for more lost days of work than staff who had Covid or were self-isolating.
Figures from the BMA’s latest survey of junior doctors in England have also shown that more than three-quarters of respondents (78%) felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the past year.
Most junior doctors (81%) who took part in the survey reported that their health and wellbeing has worsened, or not improved, since December 2021.
Another survey of members of the Royal College of Radiologists found that half were considering reducing working hours and nearly a third (31%) are considering leaving the NHS to work elsewhere.
Some ambulance trusts have reported absence rates of more than one in 10 staff during the pandemic.