The NHS is losing more than 3.5 million days of work by staff because of sickness linked to mental health problems, it has emerged.
New data from NHS England shows the problem is also getting worse with an increasing number of days and proportion of staff off sick for mental health reasons.
The data runs from March 2019 to February 2020, before the coronavirus crisis. It is feared the pandemic could lead to lasting mental health issues for some NHS workers.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat MP who obtained the data through a parliamentary question, said: “These incredibly worrying figures show the mental health of NHS workers was already at a tipping point before the pandemic stuck.
“Many nurses, doctors and other NHS staff have been left exhausted and traumatised from the crisis and they now need extra support.
“The Liberal Democrats have proposed a series of measures to ensure no-one slips through the net as the scale of the mental health impact of this crisis emerges. NHS staff are working round the clock to keep our health service afloat, so support must be available whenever it is needed.”
The data shows that among doctors, 136,771 full-time equivalent days were lost due to mental health reasons in the year to February 2020. This was an increase of more than 53 per cent since 2015-16. The proportion of doctors taking time off sick increased by 0.1 per cent.
Non-medical NHS staff were off sick with mental health reasons for a total of 3.4 million days in the year to February, up 16.5 per cent from 2.9 million days in the same period a year earlier.
Since 2015-16, the number of days lost due to mental health sickness among non-medical NHS staff increased by 54 per cent.
The overall proportion of non-medical staff off sick for mental health reasons has increased from 0.9 per cent to 1.2 per cent.
Layla Moran said urgent action was needed to address the mental health problems among NHS staff caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with many nurses and doctors left traumatised and exhausted.
A recent survey of doctors found almost one in seven was planning to quit the NHS or retire when the current crisis subsides, with many more saying they aimed to cut back on hours. Almost one-third complained of mental health problems related to four months of relentless struggle against Covid-19.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for measures to better support NHS staff including opening the NHS mental health hotline 24/7, rather than between 7am and 11pm as it is currently.
The party is also proposing a new dedicated mental health support service for NHS staff based on the army’s Medical Assessment Programme.
NHS England has been contacted for comment.