The number of sick days taken by nurses due to Covid jumped by over 40% between February and March this year, data released today by NHS digital has shown.
The sickness absence figures revealed that in March, nurses took 192,122 sick days due to Covid – a 43% increase from February when 134,739 Covid-related sick days were reported.
The data also showed that nurses took 17% more sick days due to anxiety, stress, and depression than at the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, nurses took 112,434 sick days due to these mental health issues, but in March of this year this figure was up to 132,053 days.
The amount of sick days taken by nurses due to to mental health rose in March month by 3,000 days as compared to February. Across the whole NHS, while sick days due to anxiety, depression, and stress represented a smaller proportion of total sick days, the number of mental health sick days actually increased by over 20,000 in the same month.
‘The pandemic put a significant strain on the healthcare workforce,’ the report said, ‘and we heard numerous testimonies from a workforce who have gone above and beyond for too long, leading to burnout and diminishing morale
‘The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff who have been under substantial pressure, whilst experiencing the same challenges as the rest of the population in terms of being isolated from family and friends and disruption to day-to-day life.’
RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: ‘The pandemic continues to take its toll on nursing, with a 17% increase in staff absence due to anxiety, stress and depression since March 2020.
‘The recent report from the Health and Social Care Committee laid bare the nursing workforce crisis. Millions of patients are facing lengthy waits for care, piling pressure on a profession already on its knees. Yet another real-terms pay cut has added insult to injury, leaving nursing with no choice but to consider industrial action.’
This comes after the DHSC withdrew the Covid-19 guidance that ensured NHS staff in England would receive special leave and sick pay for Covid-related absences, in a move which the RCN dubbed ‘neglectful and unfair’.
Without this special guidance in place, any nurse who has to take time off due to Covid – or long Covid – will do so from their regular allowance of sick days. This means those who remain off sick for more than six months may lose full pay, despite strong evidence showing that frontline healthcare professionals are most at risk of contracting this condition.