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Calls for more mental health support for NHS workers grow amid burnout fears

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Calls for the reinstatement of UK government funding for the provision of mental health and wellbeing hubs for NHS workers have amplified, as a new survey by the UNISON union warns that the threat of burnout could compound healthcare staff shortages.


After polling more than 12,000 healthcare workers across the UK in February and March, UNISON said that almost one-third (31 per cent) of NHS employees had taken time off work due to mental health issues in the past year. One in five of those did not disclose the real reason for their absence to their employer, with 45 per cent saying they did not feel their manager would be supportive.

“Burnout is a reality in every part of the health service, from hospital wards to ambulance stations,” said UNISON head of health Helga Pile. “As more staff quit, the pressures increase for those still working in the NHS, and many are struggling to cope.”

Almost one-third of NHS employees have taken time off work due to mental health issues in the past year, according to a UNISON poll. Photograph: iStock/DMP

In an 11 April statement responding to the survey’s findings, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that its own members were “struggling with increasingly unmanageable workloads”, and “a significant portion of staff don’t feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their manager when they do develop burnout”.

Dr Ananta Dave, presidential lead for wellbeing and retention at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has called for “at least one year of central funding for all NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs to continue so that employees can access the support they need”.

The call follows an open letter sent in late March by 17 healthcare groups, including associations representing nurses, GPs, physiotherapists and radiologists, to UK health secretary Victoria Atkins, requesting the restoration of “ringfenced investment in evidence-based mental health and wellbeing services for NHS staff, social workers and social care staff”.

Most government funding for NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs was removed in March 2023, said the letter, and the remaining funding ended on 31 March 2024. Of the 40 hubs that were originally in operation, the letter continued, more than half have now closed and a further nine are under threat of closure.

“The staff mental health and wellbeing hubs have been positively evaluated and their outreach model aims to end a cycle of staff waiting until reaching breaking point to seek support,” said the letter. “They provide a range of evidence-based interventions to support individuals and teams across local systems, alongside vital preventative measures.”

British Safety Council has called for worker wellbeing to be prioritised in its Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manifesto, which was published on 20 March ahead of a UK General Election that is widely expected to take place later this year. The Manifesto has called on the next UK government to appoint a dedicated Minister for Wellbeing, and to develop and implement a National Wellbeing Strategy.

Data published in November by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that of the 1.8 million people suffering from a work-related illness in 2022-23, almost half had stress, depression or anxiety caused by their jobs.

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