Thousands of work days lost at Essex hospitals due to stress-related illnesses

Colchester Hospital in Essex. File image
-Credit: (Image: EssexLive)

Almost 11,000 days of work have been lost by staff at Essex hospitals due to stress-related reasons. Figures held by NHS Digital state there were 10,743 full-time equivalent days lost due to anxiety and stress-related illnesses.

Almost a third (29.58%) of all absences recorded at Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) in February 2024 were stress-related. That compares to around 17 per cent for staff at Mid and South Essex (MSE) NHS Trust.

The most common sickness absence reason in February 2024 for EPUT as anxiety and stress-related, followed by flu (12.11%) and musculoskeletal problems (9.93%). More than 8,000 days were lost across Essex's four NHS trusts - including EPUHT, MSE, East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) and the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust.

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EPUT focuses on community health, mental health and learning disability services across Essex. The other trusts manage hospitals in Chelmsford, Basildon and Southend, Colchester and Harlow.

EPUT said sickness absence for anxiety and depression at the organisation is broadly in line with other similar trusts. A spokesperson for Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) said: "The health and wellbeing of our staff is a priority and we have a range of support mechanisms in place, including a dedicated psychological support service, occupational health, and 24-hour assistance programme providing confidential support, guidance and counselling.

"We regularly seek staff feedback on wellbeing and review sickness levels to ensure appropriate support is available across the organisation."

The Linden Centre in Chelmsford is managed by EPUT
The Linden Centre in Chelmsford is managed by EPUT -Credit:Ricci Fothergill/RMC

Giovanna Leeks, chief people officer at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, said: “We are committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of our people. We have a variety of services available to colleagues who are experiencing anxiety or stress.

"This includes free, confidential psychological support available 24/7 through an employee assistance programme, and access to Here for you, an additional confidential mental health and wellbeing service available to all colleagues at PAHT, provided by Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. Our dedicated staff health and wellbeing team also provide advice and signposting to other support services as appropriate."

In the most recent national NHS Staff Survey for 2023, 41.5 per cent of ESNEFT staff said they had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress (this was 45.5% in 2022). The average score for organisations similar to ESNEFT is 42.5 per cent.

Kate Read is Director of People and Organisational Development at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT). She said: "Supporting and investing in the health and wellbeing of our staff is very important to us.

"Everyone across the NHS and at our Trust is working hard to improve the lives of the patients we serve. We acknowledge it can be tough and we're so grateful for all their efforts to provide high-quality, safe care. More staff now feel comfortable to report being off work with mental health issues, including stress.

"This means we can offer them the right support at the right time, both online and in person. Our online wellbeing hub brings together a range of services so colleagues can access fast, effective support whenever they need it. This includes specialist resources for both work-related and non-work-related stress.

"Our wellbeing team, which includes clinical psychologists, also provide one-to-one support. They can identify those staff and teams who may need extra help to stay well.

"We aim to get in touch with a colleague within 24 hours of a stress-related absence being reported. Our wellbeing team can then put the right support packages in place. We also help staff to come back to work when they're ready through therapeutic and phased returns."

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