Britain: On The Sick?

The amount of people not able to work because of sickness has risen sharply in recent years and is now at the highest level since records began. 

Stress, burnout and mental health problems are plaguing the workforce, while at the same time, the government wants to reduce the number of people out of work to boost the economy.

Having to take time off work because you are sick affects all sorts of people, including those who usually diagnose us. Tonight spoke to Saumya Jha, a GP working in Bedfordshire. Saumya has stopped working because she went blind in her left eye due to an auto-immune condition that she thinks was triggered by stress. The overwhelming pressure facing some NHS workers is thought to lead to burn out in some cases, and may be contributing to the level of sick days taken in the NHS. After 15 years of working as a GP, Saumya now has doubts about the future of her career.

Ellie Orton, CEO, NHS Charities Together, told us the reasons they found staff were becoming ill, “the majority of them say this is the heavy workload, secondly is the cost of living crisis. And then, thirdly, long working hours”. 

For many people suffering with long-term illness the standard working week is not manageable due to their symptoms. This is the case for 46 year old Samantha, who at 26, had to give up her successful career in PR due to a number of symptoms that left her fatigued and unable to cope with a nine to five job. After six years, Samantha was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Unable to find a job that could accommodate her needs to fit around her illness, Samantha has struggled to get back into work. 

Samantha’s struggles are not just an isolated case. Long term sickness levels had been following a downward trend since 2002, however since the pandemic, the number of people not working due to long term sickness rose by four hundred thousand, and now stands at two and a half million. One of those people is Sammie in Weymouth, who until the outbreak of the pandemic, ran a successful health and wellbeing business. As a result of Long COVID she couldn’t continue working, shut her business and had to downsize to a more affordable house. Following Sammie's own experience, in 2020, she was inspired to set up a charity called Long Covid Kids for children suffering from the condition.

A spokesperson from the government said:

Our reporter Adam Shaw, talks to Dr Amir Khan to explore why the number of sick notes issued has risen by half a million in the last year. 

Adam also looks into the effects of sickness levels in the prison system after the recent escape of suspected terrorist Daniel Khalife may have been a result of staff absence. Talking to Mark Fairhurst, a serving prison officer in Liverpool, Adam discovers the number of staff that are off sick, and where issues may lie within the prison service.

A Prison Service spokesperson said:

Tonight: Britain On The Sick? Airs Thursday 16th of November at 8:30pm on ITV1. It is then available on catch up on ITVX. 

Useful Links: 

  • If you are disabled and need financial help, visit to see what allowance you could be entitled for.

  • If you are sick or disabled, visit Citizens Advice to see what benefits you can claim.

  • To look at disability rights, visit Disability Rights UK.

For disability advice and support, phone Scope, Equality for disabled people, on 0808 800 3333