NHS staff absences due to mental health issues at Oxford University Hospitals Trust increased by almost 20% during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figures have been revealed by NHS Digital data which shows a total of 7,696 full-time staff days lost to mental health issues during April and June of this year – an increase of 18% compared to the same period last year.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail, Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said: "Sometimes [NHS staff] felt conflicted between their duty to patients and their need to protect their family and friends, with some forced to live away from loved ones to minimise the risk.
“Common misconceptions around resilience and immunity to poor mental health – the ‘superhero’ narrative – can actually prevent people asking for support when they need it, particularly from their manager or employer.”
The findings follow the broader pattern seen across England during the first pandemic wave. Between April and May of this year, NHS absences due to psychiatric illness rose substantially from 20.9% to 28.3%. Other figures have shown an increase from 1.1 million sick days between April and June last year to 1.5 million in the same period this year.
According to an NHS spokesperson, over 400,000 NHS staff accessed a physical and mental health wellbeing programme during the first wave, as they "have worked tirelessly to protect the health of the nation throughout this pandemic."
Access to mental health support for frontline NHS staff was recently highlighted as an issue, with research suggesting that a lack of awareness of support options and resources being key barriers.
NHS England and NHS Improvement are looking to remedy the issue though with an extra £15 million investment recently announced to provide staff "rapid access to expanded mental health services."
“It is crucial that the NHS staff working tirelessly to protect the health of the nation throughout this pandemic are given the support they deserve, which is why we are announcing this expansion of services," said NHS National Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, in a press release announcing the investment. “Frontline workers are the backbone of the NHS, from porters and cleaners to nurses, doctors and therapists, and this funding will ensure they are properly supported while they continue to care for the thousands of patients who rely on the NHS.”
The investment will reportedly be spent on creating a national support service for critical care staff, funding nationwide outreach and assessment services, and developing wellbeing and psychological training.