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Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk Hospital trust sees thousands more working days lost due to staff stress, anxiety and depression





The number of working days lost at a hospital trust due to ‘burnt out’ staff suffering from stress, anxiety and depression has risen by thousands.

Struggling staff at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust took more than 16,840 full time equivalent (FTE) days off sick last year - an increase of 2,277.72 compared to 2022.

Union UNISON said the figures, revealed following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by SuffolkNews, should be shocking but came as no great surprise as staff are being worked until they break.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said chronic workforce shortages and soaring demand for services were driving a mental health emergency and called for more support for ‘burn out’ staff as well as action to address workforce shortages, dangerous workloads and to properly lift pay.

The trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, said it had been an incredibly difficult few years, with increased pressure on services, and there was a range of health and well-being support for staff.

The data shows that in 2022 the trust’s acute hospitals recorded 12,885.73 FTE days of staff absence due to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses, plus 1,685.51 in its community division.

Last year, this increased to 14,010.09 in the acute hospitals and 2,838.87 in community.

So far there have been 5,767.85 in the hospitals and 1,198.62 in community up to May.

A previous FOI request by SuffolkNews in 2022 found there were 12,669.75 full-time equivalent days absence in 2021 due to stress, anxiety and depression across the trust’s sites compared to 7,444.44 in 2018.

Paul Pearson, UNISON Suffolk Area Health joint branch secretary, said in the last 10-plus years NHS staff had seen their workloads increase and the value of their pay drop while having to repay student loans.

Paul Pearson, UNISON Suffolk Area Health joint branch secretary. Picture: Ash Jones
Paul Pearson, UNISON Suffolk Area Health joint branch secretary. Picture: Ash Jones

“Our 2024 pay rise is nearly three months overdue already, with the cost of living still rising,” he said.

“People can’t afford to retire, so our workforce is getting older and without enough students being trained to take their places.”

Mr Pearson said West Suffolk Hospital reflects the NHS mandated practice of 12.5-hour shifts being standard on the wards and other clinical areas.

Struggling staff at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust took more than 16,840 full time equivalent (FTE) days off sick last year - an increase of 2,277.72 compared to 2022. Picture: istock
Struggling staff at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust took more than 16,840 full time equivalent (FTE) days off sick last year - an increase of 2,277.72 compared to 2022. Picture: istock

Staff don’t get their contracted enhancements for working overtime, because only bank shifts are available, rather than overtime, requiring them to work longer to receive the same pay, he said.

“In short, staff are being worked until we break,” said Mr Pearson.

“Whoever wins the next election will need to get a grip on the crisis at West Suffolk Hospital and across the NHS.”

Sarah Seeley, RCN senior officer for Suffolk, said many NHS staff were demoralised and burnt out, while nursing staff were being emotionally and physically pushed to the edge.

Real-terms pay cuts, she said, have also exposed workers to the cost-of-living crisis.

“Health service leaders and politicians need to recognise that the pressures on staff are unsustainable,” she added.

“We need more mental health support for NHS staff – but, crucially, we also need serious action to address workforce shortages, dangerous workloads and to properly lift pay.”

The trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, said it had been an incredibly difficult few years, with increased pressure on services, and there was a range of health and well-being support for staff
The trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, said it had been an incredibly difficult few years, with increased pressure on services, and there was a range of health and well-being support for staff

A West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: “It has been an incredibly difficult few years, with our staff showing tireless dedication and professionalism through significant challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing demand for our services.

“We believe it is very important to support our staff as their health and well-being is vital to ensuring we can continue providing our services.

“As such, we have a range of health and wellbeing support available, such as a dedicated staff psychology support team, a staff physiotherapy service and free access to local leisure facilities, which are aimed at helping our staff maintain and improve their mental and physical well-being.”