More than 400,000 working days in the NHS were lost to mental ill-health in the first month of the coronavirus crisis, new figures show.
Figures uncovered by the Labour Party reveal the pressure frontline NHS staff were under as the virus started to take its grip on the country.
The sickness absence rate for NHS staff in England was 4.48% in March, up from 4.08% for the same month in 2019.
In total two million sick days were taken in March – with anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses listed as the reason in more than a fifth of cases.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Mental Health Minister and an A&E doctor who uncovered the grim statistics, said: “These statistics make for alarming reading.
“Of the over two million sick days taken by NHS staff in England in March, over 400,000 were due to mental ill health.
“Our health and care staff have sacrificed so much during this pandemic – it demonstrates why Labour’s ‘Care for Carers’ package is so vital.
“Dedicated mental health support should be available for all health and care staff.”
She added: “It is a disgrace that the Government have refused to meet with us to discuss a mental health support package for all health and care staff.
“I urge the Government to reconsider our offer. We must fight for the mental health of those who have supported us so courageously during this crisis.”
Figures revealed by the Mirror last month showed the number of sick days had already increased dramatically before the pandemic.
Between January and December 2019, the number soared to 4,796,928 – a surge of 138% compared to 2010.
Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our staff is a top priority, and we understand the huge pressures they and their families face – particularly during this unprecedented pandemic.
“The NHS has increased its health and wellbeing support for staff and a range of services are available, including a mental health hotline, practical support, financial advice, and specialist bereavement and psychological support.
“We would urge anyone struggling to come forward and speak to a colleague, their occupational health team, or to call the helpline so that they can get the help they need.”