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Mental health linked to decline in NHS productivity by NHS chief

The long-term drop in the NHS’ productivity is in part related to NHS staff’s poor mental health following the pandemic, the NHS chief executive has suggested.

During a round of questioning at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session on urgent and emergency care on 3 July, members asked Amanda Pritchard why the NHS was still seeing a decline in productivity despite new investments.

Staff absences last year peaked at 5.6%, greater than during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among other reasons, Ms Pritchard said the NHS was seeing higher levels of sickness among its staff compared to pre-pandemic, particularly due to poor mental health and anxiety, some of which is ‘directly related to what people have been through over what was an extraordinarily difficult few years’.

She added that many staff absences are also down to Covid-19 or other respiratory conditions, which have directly impacted their health.

Ms Pritchard said: ‘That’s an awful lot that the NHS is dealing with. So you’re absolutely right, we’ve had welcome support, particularly now with the support for the workforce plan, which gives hope that we now have a line of sight to a sustainable future staffing model for the NHS.’

This comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) last week published a major report claiming the NHS was unable to ‘secure the full benefits’ of increased spending and staff numbers, with performance against targets deteriorating further since the pandemic.

Other reasons for a drop in performance, Ms Pritchard told the PAC, include record levels of pressure on the NHS, with more than 30 million appointments delivered in primary care in the last 12 months, and demand ‘outstripping anything we’ve had before’.

And when questioned why 9% of NHS workers quit between 2022 and 2023 – which was compared to 6% in the Ministry of Defence – Ms Pritchard flagged that many staff leave their role for another job in the NHS.

Also at the PAC session, Ms Pritchard confirmed that there are no ‘specific costs’ associated with retention elements of the long-term workforce plan.

This story was originally published by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.