One third of social care workforce sickness absence due to mental health and stress, troubling new figures reveal
The British Psychological Society and British Association of Social Workers say the new figures highlight the desperate need for the NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs.
18 September 2023
Mental health, stress and work-related stress was behind nearly one-third (30 per cent or 500,021 FTE days)* of social care staff sickness absence in councils in England last year, shocking new figures uncovered by the British Psychological Society have revealed.
Analysis of new data obtained by the British Psychological Society (BPS) from 114 local authorities in England, has also shown that for more than three quarters (77 per cent)** of local authorities, mental health, stress, or work-related stress is the most common reason for sickness absence in their social care workforce.
The data shows 1.6million days (1,653,117 FTE days)* of sickness absence were taken by adult and children’s social care staff in 114 councils in 2022-2023 in total, against a backdrop of a debilitating recruitment and retention crisis, unmanageable workloads, and soaring local authority spending on agency social care staff.
The figures are based on analysis of data for the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, from 114 local authorities in England, obtained through Freedom of Information requests submitted by the British Psychological Society.
The British Psychological Society and British Association of Social Workers say the new figures highlight the desperate need for the NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs, which provided dedicated mental health support for struggling health and social care staff, until government funding ended in March 2023.
New research into the impact of three hubs recently published in the BMJ has found that Hubs were seen as a valuable, responsive and distinct part of the health and care system, but that the genuine promotion of and value placed on mental health support by health and social care management, and the creation of psychologically safe work environments, was vital.
At least 15 of the 42 hubs have already closed or are pending closure, while the majority of remaining hubs continue to operate in a funding limbo after NHS England provided an inadequate £2.3million for drastically scaled back services until March 2024 - despite staff wellbeing being a key focus of the new NHS Workforce Plan.
Some hubs had set up teams dedicated to reaching the social care workforce in their areas, including the Keeping Well in South East London (KWSEL) Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub, which proactively engaged with staff across six city boroughs.
In one year, the team visited more than 110 care section organisations, with 448 care staff receiving training or an intervention to support their mental wellbeing, before the service was forced to close in March 2023 after its funding was cut.***
Integrated Care Systems in England are expected to make crucial decisions about future funding for the hubs and their staff wellbeing services in the next few months.
The British Psychological Society and British Association of Social Workers are calling on health and care leaders to make funding for staff wellbeing support, including for the NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs, a key priority in their budgets.
Dr Roman Raczka, President-Elect of the British Psychological Society, and Chair of the Division for Clinical Psychology, said:
“These troubling figures are yet more evidence of the staffing crisis and working conditions within social care, and the deeply concerning toll it is taking on the mental health of a demoralised and burnt out workforce.
“Despite this, funding for the NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs was cut just as many had started to make inroads into reaching social care staff who needed help, leaving significant unmet need.
“Health and social care leaders simply can’t afford not to invest in staff wellbeing if they wish to retain staff, recruit new talent, and provide the effective, safe services people deserve.
“We urge them to commit to long-term ring-fenced funding for dedicated mental health and wellbeing support for health and care staff, including through the remaining NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs.
“They must now seize upon the opportunity to build upon the foundations created by the hub network to provide mental health and wellbeing support for staff that’s fit for purpose and rooted in best practice.”
The figures published by the BPS reflect the findings of the British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) Annual Survey of Social Workers and Social Work: 2022, which found that 75 per cent of respondents reported that they are currently unable to complete all of their work within their contracted hours.
BASW found a lack of funding for social care (68 per cent), recruitment and retention problems (54 per cent) and cuts to local services (42 per cent) were pinpointed as the biggest concerns for the profession as a whole.
A spokesperson for BASW England, commented:
"These shocking figures highlight the urgent need for action to address the wellbeing of our social care workforce. It's crucial that the Government not only acknowledge this issue but also takes proactive steps to support dedicated social care professionals.
"To gain a clearer understanding of the reasons behind these absences, BASW urges for monthly reporting of staff absences to identify common themes.
"Feedback from BASW social workers consistently underscores the challenges faced by social care workers, including high caseloads, chronic stress, and insufficient resources.
"The wellbeing of our social care workforce should be a top priority, and we call upon healthcare leaders and policymakers to allocate the necessary resources and funding to address these issues and provide much-needed support to those who care for our most vulnerable in our society."
About the research
* The BPS contacted 151 councils in England (Unitary authorities, Metropolitan Districts, County Councils, London Boroughs), of which 128 replied. 14 of the 128 responses either declined to respond, or had data integrity issues. All data requested is for the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023.
More than 1.6million days (1,653,117 FTE days), of sickness absence were taken by local authority based adult and children’s social care staff in 2022-2023 in total.
- Nearly one-third of sickness absence days lost (30 per cent) or (500,021 FTE days lost) were due to mental health, stress or work-related stress.
- 25 per cent of sickness absence was for mental health reasons (406,796 FTE days lost)
- 6 per cent of sickness absence was for stress or work-related stress (93,225 FTE days lost)
** Analysis of data in eligible FOI responses from 98 local authorities found that in 76 mental health, stress, or work related stress was the top reason for sickness absence. While data from 114 local authorities has been included in the overall analysis, the presentation of data from 16 local authorities was not suitable to rank the most common reasons for sickness absence.
*** This information was obtained through a Freedom on Information request submitted by the British Psychological Society to South East London Integrated Care Board. Further information about the service provided for social care staff by the Keeping Well South East London Hub is available in an article on the Skills for Care website.
Launched by NHS England in February 2021 in response to the trauma NHS and social care staff experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, 40 staff mental health and wellbeing hubs provided NHS and social care staff with fast access to free and confidential local mental health services. The hubs purpose has since evolved to address issues including staff retention and turnover, sickness levels, workforce wellbeing, suicide risk and staff burnout.