Nursing ward staff take more sick days than most other public sector workers, according to a study published by the Healthcare Commission.
On average, 16.8 days per ward staff member is lost to sickness each year, it found.
Across seven other parts of the public sector – including police, teachers, social services, civil servants and the prison service – the average was 11.3 days per employee a year, substantially lower.
The figures were based on a survey of 135,000 hospital ward staff in 6,000 hospital wards across the UK.
The cost of sickness absence nationally for the entire ward staffing workforce was approximately £470m per year, estimated the commission.
Commission chief executive Anna Walker said: “These high rates of absence among nurses are extremely worrying. Whatever the reasons, nurses are far too important for us to ignore this problem.
“The causes are unclear, but factors such as stress, job satisfaction, workload and the physical nature of the job all may be part of the picture. Nurses are the backbone of the NHS and we need to do more to understand what is happening.”
In a separate development, new international guidelines have been introduced by the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation aimed at protecting health workers against the risk of HIV/Aids.