Regarding the peak of mental and respiratory illnesses for nurses since the Covid-19

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The number of sick days taken by nurses and medical visitors in England has risen by almost a fifth from pre-pandemic levels, according to a new analysis from the Royal College of Nursing.

Exposing the record of the last 19 months on the profession, the survey showed that nurses needed more free time for mental health problems, respiratory diseases and migraines than before Covid-19.

“Even in a climate of widespread staff shortages, there can be no stigma against nurses who need time to take stock”

Carol Popplestone

The NHS in England recorded around 73,200 (18%) more sick days among nurses and health visitors in May 2021 compared to May 2019, the RCN said.

During this period, the number of sick leaves taken for mental health reasons increased by 31%.

RCN said anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses remained the most common cause of staff illness.

In 2019, mental health issues accounted for 25.5% of all absences, but by 2021 that figure had risen to just over 28%.

Concerns about mental health and well-being have intensified since the Covid-19 outbreak, causing Breastfeeding time to launch his Covid-19: Are you okay? campaign to lobby for support of the profession.

Meanwhile, RCN analysis also showed that days lost due to chest and respiratory problems increased by 52.5% between 2019 and 2021, and headaches or migraines increased by 52% during the period. from the same period.

The college feared these “large-scale” sickness absences could worsen in the midst of a difficult winter ahead, especially as forecasts show flu levels this season could be 50% higher than they are. ‘habit.

Carol Popplestone

Figures from the past five years show that, on average, 5% of all nurses and health visitors were on sick leave during the month of January, but by January 2021 that figure had risen to almost 7%.

In addition to widespread nursing vacancies in the NHS in England, a further rise in staff sickness rates could put even more pressure on services, the RCN has warned.

RCR Board Chair Carol Popplestone said: “Even in a climate of widespread staff shortages that governments have refused to recognize, there can be no stigma against nurses who need time to take stock. .

“Without questioning it, we are not only losing nurses for a few days, we are losing them forever. “

She added: “There will be immense pressure on health and care services this winter and services cannot afford to lose safety critical professionals to preventable illnesses in addition to tens of thousands of positions. vacancies in nursing. The risk to our patients is too high to do nothing.

Employers were urged to work with RCN to “ensure staff can receive the vaccines to which they are entitled, that they are rested, that they take breaks and that they take care of themselves. in order to take better care of patients ”.

RCN said it is also launching a winter wellness campaign to encourage staff to prioritize their own physical and mental health this winter.

Responding to the RCN’s analysis, an NHS spokesperson said: ‘NHS staff have gone out of their way to treat over 450,000 Covid patients in addition to maintaining routine services throughout the pandemic .

“It is absolutely crucial that they receive the support they need as winter approaches, which is why a comprehensive support package is available for all NHS workers, including a confidential helpline. and rapid access to mental health services. “

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said: “Nurses are doing an incredibly important job, made even more difficult by the pandemic, and this has been recognized by a 3% pay rise. This year.”

They said the government “is investing £ 37million in staff mental health centers, a helpline and a 24/7 SMS helpline”.


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