More than 1.3 million days of work were lost in the NHS in England due to coronavirus-related sickness over three months, new figures show.
Data from NHS Digital, published on Thursday, shows that 1,349,599 full-time equivalent (FTE) days of work were lost to Covid-19 absence between March and May.
This was the equivalent of around 22% of the nearly 6.1 million FTE sickness days lost during the period across all staff groups in the NHS in England.
The data showed that during the peak of the outbreak in April there were 690,569 FTE days lost due to Covid-19 – 30.6% of the nearly 2.3 million absences recorded that month.
In March there were 318,140 coronavirus-related FTE days lost to absence, 15.9% of total absences, and in May there were 340,890 FTE days lost to Covid, accounting for 18.9% of all absences that month.
NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin said it was not clear how many of the absences were avoidable.
She added: “These figures show how the real impact of Covid-19 on NHS staff absences continued into the summer even as the initial surge in cases abated.
“Nearly one in five days lost due to absence during May were Covid-related.
“Providing a safe environment for staff and patients is an absolute priority for trusts which is why capacity for regular testing is so important.
“In the absence of regular routine testing for staff and patients, with fast turnaround times, this was clearly a problem early in the summer, and it remains a problem today.”
The London region reported the highest Covid 19-related sickness absences as a proportion of all FTE days lost through absence in both March at 26% and April at 40%, but in May the highest related sickness absence was in the South East at 25.8%.
Professionally qualified clinical employees – including doctors, nurses and ambulance staff – had the most FTE days lost to Covid-19-related sickness with 758,927 across the three-month period.
This accounted for 56% of total FTE days lost to coroanvirus during the period across all staff groups.
Of the professionally qualified clinical staff group, nurses had the highest number of FTE days lost to the virus, peaking at 256,053 in April.
The overall sickness absence rate for NHS staff in England in May was 4.7%.
This is down from 6.2% in April, which was the highest level ever seen in the data, which goes back to April 2009.
The data also showed that anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses was the most reported reason for sickness absence in May.
It accounted for 510,281 full time equivalent days lost and 28.3% of all sickness absence that month, up from 20.9% in April.
Over 500,000 sick days were taken by NHS staff in England due to mental ill health in May alone – there’s a worrying rise on the previous month.
The Govt needs to act – they need to stop ignoring the mental health crisis. https://t.co/Z3bw5Y44jL
— Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (@DrRosena) September 24, 2020
Labour’s shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said that dedicated mental health support should be available for all health and care staff.
She added: “These statistics must serve as a wake-up call for the Government.
“At a time when Covid-19 related sickness absences were going down, mental ill health absences were soaring.
“Our health and care staff have sacrificed so much during this pandemic – it demonstrates why Labour’s ‘Care for Carers’ package is so vital.
“Ahead of winter and a second spike, the Government must learn the lessons of this spring.
“We must fight for the mental health of those who have supported us so courageously during this crisis.”