Mental health absence from NHS and local councils cost taxpayer £2bn over pandemic

NHS – Andrew Milligan/PA

Mental health absence from councils and the NHS cost the UK taxpayer £2bn during the pandemic, as sick days for depression and other conditions soared by 34 per cent, The Telegraph can reveal.

Data shows staff sick days for mental health reasons in the NHS and local government totalled £1.2bn in 2020 and £788m between January and August 2021, compared with less than £1bn in 2019.

Mental health leave for staff was on average three times longer than Covid-related absence, with workers taking a month off to recover versus an average of 11 days for Covid infection or isolation.

Among council workers, time off for mental health took up 26 per cent of total sick days – more than for Covid infections and Covid isolation combined.

The total cost of mental health leave was enough to run the entire NHS for five days.

The hidden cost of mental health absence on public services is exposed by new data from FirstCare, which holds the largest private database of workplace absence in the UK.

The data has previously been used by Government departments to inform policy.

It also shows that double the proportion of teachers took time off for mental health during the pandemic than in 2019, with a fifth of education staff overall taking sick days.

The latest figures come after NHS leaders revealed eight million people in the UK are waiting to access mental health services.

Mental health leaders have complained that little of the extra funding for the NHS during the Covid pandemic has been allocated to mental health services. £500m was announced in this year’s Spending Review, of £3bn allocated overall.

Previous studies have suggested that employers’ mental health provision is significantly worse in the public sector than in private businesses.

A survey found that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor than those who work for the Government.

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