Hospital worker reveals mental health toll of staff shortages

Nurse using hand sanitizer

Housekeeper and healthcare assistant, Kim Cox has had over seven weeks off work due to her mental health since the beginning of the pandemic. - Credit: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

An NHS worker has told of how she was driven to taking seven weeks off work herself after staff shortages since the start of the pandemic took their toll on her mental health.

Kim Cox, a housekeeper and healthcare assistant at James Paget University Hospital (JPUH), shared that she was off sick for seven weeks because she "couldn't face going in to work".

Miss Cox said: "The past 20 months have been very strenuous and mentally draining due to staff shortages.

"There are a lot of staff off already and it's not even winter yet."

The HCA said that she felt she and a lot of staff were "constantly chasing their tails", but ultimately there wasn't enough support to ensure things ran smoothly.

"I just wonder how the NHS is going to survive," she added.

"I feel it has just been so drained and the staff are being wrung out."

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NHS nurses are experiencing more sickness, including for anxiety and depression, than before the pandemic and face a tough winter that could impact patient care, nursing leaders have warned.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) analysed figures for staff sickness from before the pandemic and earlier this year, and found thousands of days lost to staff absence on already overstretched wards.

The NHS in England recorded over 18pc more sick days among nurses and health visitors in May 2021 compared to May 2019 (73,209 more sick days).

The analysis showed staff are now more at risk of mental health problems than before the pandemic.

The RCN wants ministers to be legally accountable for assessing the workforce requirements for the NHS and social care, and for workforce planning and supply.

RCN council chairwoman Carol Popplestone said: "There cannot be a stigma against nurses needing time to take stock.

"Without challenging it, we don't just lose nursing staff for a few days, we lose them forever."

At the JPUH board of directors meeting on October 1, Anna Davidson, chair by the council of governors, advised that there had been some tough days with staff absence but the way in which it had been managed had mitigated the risks.

Jackie Copping, deputy director of nursing, reported that over the last two weeks this has impacted over and above JPUH's expected normal sickness levels.