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Concern as 74,000 nurses in Scotland miss work due to mental illness

A nurse said she wanted to be in a car crash so she would not have to go to work, research into the mental health of NHS staff found.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives show more than 74,000 NHS staff across Scotland have missed work with mental illness in the last five years.

Some 74,013 workers have taken time off due to anxiety, stress, depression or other mental illnesses since 2018, responses to requests by the party to all of Scotland’s 14 health boards show.

The figures represent around 46% of the NHS’s 160,000 strong workforce in Scotland.

One member of staff in NHS Borders worked a 19.5-hour shift, the figures show.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Sandesh Gulhane described the findings as “deeply concerning”, saying there has been a lack of support and workforce planning by the Scottish Government.

Scottish Conservative Party conference 2023
Scottish Conservative Sandesh Gulhane urged the Scottish Government to act (PA)

During a recent roundtable event with NHS nurses, one said she hoped to be in a car accident to avoid work and another said she was no longer proud of the work she did.

More than 1.5 million working days have been lost as a result of the absences, with figures likely to be far higher as not all of the health boards provided the information requested.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – Scotland’s largest health board – only revealed absences for the last three years rather than the last five.

The board had the highest tally of Scotland’s 14 health boards.

Dr Gulhane, who is also a GP, said the findings should be a “wake-up call” for Scottish Health Secretary Michael Matheson.

He said: “My dedicated colleagues on the front line are beyond breaking point and for many this has clearly taken an awful toll on their mental health.

“These findings fully expose how overwhelmed so many of them have become on the SNP’s watch due to the shortage of frontline staff, which is the product of dire workforce planning by successive health secretaries.

“But, sadly, these shocking figures chime with what I heard at a roundtable of nurses that I participated in recently.

Michael Matheson
Scottish Health Secretary Michael Matheson was told the figures should be ‘an urgent wake-up call’ (PA)

“Among the awful testimonies, it was utterly heart-breaking to hear one dedicated nurse insist she hoped she would be involved in a car crash to avoid her work.

“We should never have reached this point. These figures will be even worse given a lot of health boards – including the country’s largest – didn’t provide all the information requested.

“The new SNP Health Secretary – Michael Matheson – has to use these figures as an urgent wake-up call. He should start by ripping up Humza Yousaf’s NHS recovery plan which has totally failed to remobilise our NHS.

“He should follow the example of the Scottish Conservatives who have outlined a clear vision for the future of the NHS as a modern, efficient and local service to support suffering patients and dedicated staff.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are immensely grateful for the incredible efforts of all of our NHS and social care staff as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

“Our health care system continues to be under substantial pressure and we are working with health boards to provide long-term sustainable support.

“The nursing and midwifery taskforce, which met for the first time last week, will also look to explore and develop proposals on a range of initiatives, including staff wellbeing.”