The annual NHS Staff Survey highlights the intense pressure that NHS staff have been under during the Covid-19 pandemic with 44% of all staff reporting being ill because of work-related stress.

Nearly 600,000 NHS staff from 280 NHS organisations took part in the survey between September and December 2020, via either a postal or online.

It found that the increases in work-related stress were the sharpest in Acute/Acute & Community Trusts and Acute Specialist Trusts and there was a marked increase this year (40.3% in 2019). 

In addition, 46.4% said they have gone to work in the last three months, despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties, but this was notably fewer than in previous years (56.6% in 2019).

While over half of staff continue to work additional unpaid hours on a weekly basis (55.2%), this proportion declined between 2018 (58.0%) and 2019 (55.9%) and has continued to decline this year.

Staff considering leaving the NHS has decreased

The proportion of staff who are considering leaving their current NHS organisation has decreased by 2 percentage points since 2019 (down from 35.8% to 33.8%) and continues an improving trend since 2018 (37.4%). This figure includes all staff considering leaving their current job other than those looking to move to another job within the same organisation.

The proportion of staff who are considering leaving the NHS altogether has decreased by 1 percentage point since 2019 (down from 19.6% to 18.2%) and has also seen year on year improvement since 2018 (21.0%). This includes those considering retiring or taking a career break and those considering moving to a job outside healthcare or in healthcare but outside the NHS.

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “That 44% of all staff, and 40% of doctors and dentists, reported being ill because of work-related stress – a marked increase from previous years – is a stark, yet unsurprising figure, given all that they have been through. They have dealt with death and illness on a scale the NHS was completely unprepared for, which tragically far too often included their own friends and colleagues.

“This also reflects what our members are telling us, with half of respondents in our own February survey saying they are suffering with work-related mental health conditions, and almost 60% saying levels of exhaustion and fatigue are higher than normal."

He added that the performance statistics show the enormous challenge facing the NHS workforce in terms of tackling the backlog of care – with the number of people waiting longer than a year for treatment at a record high and cancer waiting times continuing to rise – a further loss of staff would be devastating for patient care.