Sick Leave On The Rise In NHS Scotland
Tens of thousands of NHS employees have taken sick leave due to mental health difficulties, according to new statistics, which reveal that over the previous five years, the yearly number has doubled.

NHS Scotland staff took more sick leave then the average worker – with stress, anxiety and depression blamed for a third of all absences, official figures revealed in a recent study.

According to recent data, more than 75,000 NHS employees have taken sick leave for mental health reasons over the past five years, with the number of absences doubling since 2018.

A number of freedom of information requests filed to each health board in Scotland reveal that, since 2018, 74,013 NHS employees took sick leave because of stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental health related illnesses.

However, as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde only disclosed absences during the last three years, this number is probably far higher. Despite this, NHSGGC had the highest total of 16,452 missing employees among Scotland’s 14 health boards during that time.

Over 1.5 million working days have been lost as a result of absences, according to the data. Again, the real number is probably much higher because NHS Tayside and NHS Forth Valley both declined to release it.

Read More About Stressed: 74% Of Scots Reported Feeling “Overwhelmed Or Unable To Cope” In 2018

The demanding shifts NHS employees are required to work have also come to light as a result of freedom of information requests. In 2022, one employee of NHS Borders put in a 19-hour shift. NHS Borders revealed the longest shift a staff member had worked in 2022 was 19.5 hours, despite the fact that only five health boards had submitted statistics.

Statistics reveal that since 2018, the issue, of sick leave, has gotten worse. Since then, when 8,172 employees reported taking sick leave due to stress, depression, or other mental illnesses, the number of employees who missed work due to mental health issues has increased by a factor of two.

This contrasts with 17,528 in 2022 through November. In the same way, 152,608 working days were lost, due to sick leave, in 2018 as opposed to 363,930 up until November of 2022.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the figures are “deeply concerning”.

“My dedicated colleagues on the frontline are beyond breaking point and for many this has clearly taken an awful toll on their mental health,” said Dr Gulhane.

“My thoughts are with those NHS workers who have been struggling with these issues.

“These findings fully expose how overwhelmed so many of them have become on the SNP’s watch, due to the shortage of frontline staff which is the product of dire workforce planning by successive health secretaries.

“We should never have reached this point. These figures will be even worse given a lot of health boards – including the country’s largest – didn’t provide all the information requested.

“The new SNP health secretary – Michael Matheson – has to use these figures as an urgent wake-up call. He should start by ripping up Humza Yousaf’s NHS Recovery plan which has totally failed to remobilise our NHS.”

Colin Poolman, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland, said the findings are “extremely worrying”.

“Nursing staff across NHS Scotland services are telling us that staff shortages are impacting on their ability to provide safe care for patients and on their, and their colleagues, wellbein,” said Mr Poolman.

“It is vital that employers take account of the impact the sustained pressure on services is having on the nursing workforce.

“Nurses and nursing support workers are exhausted and worn down by the past three years.

“The Scottish government and health boards must do all they can to protect the mental and physical wellbeing of the workforce and to prevent nursing staff being spread more thinly.”

A spokesperson for NHSGGC said: “NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is the largest health board in the UK with more than 40,000 employees and the health and wellbeing of our staff is an absolute priority.

“We have introduced various services to support staff such as our occupational health service, our dedicated mental health and wellbeing resources and our rest and relaxation hubs.

“We would like to thank our staff who worked tirelessly throughout the period of the pandemic that covers the duration of the figures outlined.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are immensely grateful for the incredible efforts of all of our NHS and Social Care staff as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

“Our health care system continues to be under substantial pressure and we are working with health boards to provide long-term sustainable support.

“The nursing and midwifery taskforce, which met for the first time last week, will also look to explore and develop proposals on a range of initiatives, including staff well-being.”


Anderson, J. (2023) NHS Scotland: Tens Of Thousands Of Staff Take Sick Leave Due To Mental Health, The Scotsman. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2023).

About the author : Andrew Warren