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The most common causes of NHS staff absences – Digital Health Technology News

  • Psychiatric illnesses were named as the main cause for 25.6% of NHS staff absences
  • Influenza, cold and cough is the second most common cause, with 15.3% of staff absences being for this reason. Musculoskeletal problems is in third, impacting 8.2% of sick employees
  • The least common cause of NHS staff absences, affecting 0.1% of staff, is for burns, frostbite and hypothermia

New research carried out by personal injury experts at have examined NHS data to determine the most common causes of all NHS staff absences from December 2023 – Psychiatric Illnesses proving the leading cause of employees missing work. Overall, 5.5% of staff were off sick during the period studied.

Psychiatric Illnesses were named as the cause for 25.6% of employees taking time away from the workplace, deeming it the largest cause of staff absenteeism. These psychiatric illnesses can range from anxiety to stress to depression. According to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, one in four people experience mental health issues each year in the UK and 792 million people are affected by bad metal health world-wide. Mental illness is the second-largest source of disease in England and is undoubtedly affecting NHS staff due to the high strain of demand and pressure of their intense and sometimes traumatic working environment.

Influenza, Cold and Cough were named as the cause for 15.3% of absent employees, the second highest cause in this ranking. Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and in extreme cases, can be fatal. Working in a hospital or doctors’ surgery etc can be an easy spread of infection, especially when being surrounded by people with a sickness. Therefore, it is essential for staff to take time off if they display clear symptoms when in the workplace to prevent further infection. The best way to avoid such illness is to get an annual flu vaccine.

Musculoskeletal Problems is the next named cause of staff absences, with 8.2% of employees out of work affected. Musculoskeletal conditions (MSK) can affect people in different ways, ranging from minor injuries to long term conditions. Such conditions can affect your joints, bones, muscles, and sometimes associated tissues such as your nerves. According to the NHS, over 20 million people in the UK, almost a third of the population, suffer from an MSK condition, most commonly arthritis or back pain. NHS work can be very physically demanding and put immense pressure on your body, which explains why it is one of the leading causes of staff absences.

In fourth place is Gastrointestinal Problems. 7.3% of absent NHS staff are affected by these issues. Gastrointestinal issues can range from mild to severe symptoms and the most frequent signs of such issues include abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence, and constipation. Some symptoms can be caused by an intolerance or food poisoning which can be easily treated but it is important to note it could be a potential sign of a digestive disease if the issue persists. These diseases could range from gastroenteritis, celiac disease, IBS and many others.

Other Unknown Causes were named as the cause for 6% of those who are off work, placing this cause of staff absence in fifth.

The sixth reason, with 4.5% of those who miss work, is caused by Injury Fracture. Depending on how severe a fracture is and in which place can have a potentially significant impact on employees who work in the medical industry. A fracture generally takes between 6 and 12 weeks to heal substantially with the help of medication and physical therapy for less severe fractures such as avulsion, hairline, and greenstick. Clean breaks such as transverse fractures can be a lot more complicated to heal and can take up to six months for a full recovery.

Back Problems are the seventh most common cause for NHS Staff absences, listed as the cause for 3.9% of employees taking time off work. Back pain can be caused by many reasons including a pulled or strained muscle and sometimes due to medical conditions such as slipped disc, sciatica or ankylosing spondylitis which can lead to extreme discomfort. Working in the NHS, many jobs require a lot of movement, and a severe back injury can have detrimental effects on your ability to work if not fully healed.

In eighth place is Endocrine and Glandular problems and Genitourinary and Gynaecological Disorders which are named as the cause for 3.2% of staff absences amongst the NHS. Endocrine and Glandular problems can happen due to imbalanced hormonal levels within your endocrine system. The endocrine system affects how your heart beats, bones and tissues grow and your ability to reproduce, so disorders within the system can be life changing. Problems within the endocrine system can lead to diabetes, growth disorders, thyroid disease and other hormone-related disorders which could affect your ability to work in some cases.

Genitourinary and Gynaecological Disorders can include urinary tract infections (UTI), kidney stones and interna cystitis, less harmful disorders that can be treated easily. On the other hand, there are more extreme problems such as hernias, ovarian cysts, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), amongst others which may require surgery and a prolonged absence from the workplace.

Infectious Disease & Unknown Causes are the ninth most common cause, listed by 2.8% of NHS staff absent from work. According to the Mayo Clinic, infectious diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites which are easily transmittable. Whether it may be a common disease or has been transmitted from a foreign country, direct contact with a person or animal with such infection can easily spread on a wide scale, a prime example being Covid-19. There are also indirect forms of transmission such as insect bites, food contamination or from inanimate objects like door handles or taps.

Benign or Malignant Tumours and Cancer were named as the tenth cause for 2.6% of those who are off work. Benign Tumours which are non-cancerous are typically harmless unless they are pressing on nearby tissues or nerves, taking up space within the brain or effecting hormone production. In this case, the tumour would need to be removed and take a significant amount of recovery time. Malignant Tumours, which are cancerous, and Cancer itself can be aggressive and appear anywhere within the body. They can both be fast growing and spreading and require aggressive treatment which can include either or both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Provided the treatment is a success, it can take a long time to recover from the intensity of it once in remission.

Burns, Frostbite and Hypothermia is the least common cause of NHS staff absence, with 0.1% of employees who are off work listing these issues as the reason.

A spokesperson from has commented on the findings: 

“Working in the NHS can be a highly demanding job and there is widespread of workforce shortages and staff burnout due to the consistent pressure put upon them. There are not enough doctors and nurses in the UK to meet the demands of patients and it can take a toll on their health, especially mental health as the data highlights.

“The NHS is one of the most important services across the nation and without it, the entire UK would struggle to get by. It is vital to bear in mind that key workers also end up as patients at some point in their lives and their health is just as important as anyone else’s.”



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