Surge in stress-related illness in NHS as staff report anxiety over underfunding and understaffing

Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan.

Produced by: Sophie Alexander

Stress and anxiety amongst NHS workers has rocketed, with new figures exposing a surge in the amount of sick time off needed by health staff.

Figures from NHS Digital, seen by ITV News, reveal that last year NHS staff took almost 100,000 more days off due to stress than they did six years ago.

And in acute medicine, which treats the most serious and urgent cases, the number of sick days taken has soared by 35%.

One experienced hospital doctor, whose identity we have protected, revealed she contemplated suicide - and said one particularly traumatic experience had stuck with her.

She had been the only doctor on duty during a night shift, and couldn't stop the bleeding of a very young patient.

"All I can hear in my mind is his mum outside the room screaming 'he's going to die, he's going to die' - and me thinking 'yes he is, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it'," she said.

"My next day shift, I went into the ward and I opened the first set of patient notes, and I thought 'I shouldn't be here'."

"Driving off the road at 70mph seemed like a genuinely better alternative than actually going into the ward and doing your job," she added.

She had to take three months off for stress, something thousands of her colleagues have also been forced to do.

Almost 100,000 more sick days due to stress were taken in 2018 than 2013. Credit: PA

The figures seen by ITV News show a startling rise in the number of days being taken off due to stress.

For all NHS staff:

  • 226,396 days lost due to stress in 2013

  • 325,218 days lost due to stress in 2018

  • 30.4% increase in number of days lost due to stress

For staff working in acute medicine:

  • 131,456 days lost due to stress in 2013

  • 203,512 days lost due to stress in 2018

  • 35.4% increase in number of days lost due to stress

The data does not cite an explicit reason for the rise in stress and anxiety, but anecdotally workers have claimed that staff shortages and an overwhelming workload might be at least part of the problem.

Those working in acute medicine saw an even higher rise. Credit: PA

Dr Julia Patterson, from campaign group Every Doctor, said a lack of support from management was another factor.

"I don't think there's enough in the way of initiatives to tackle the root cause of the problems, which is underfunding and understaffing," she said.

"I think for those people who are experiencing mental health difficulties, there should be a proper system where people are experiencing proper counselling services, and perhaps access to a psychiatrist if that's thought to be necessary."

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it would be announcing plans for helping staff with mental health issues in the near future.