anti-depressantsNHS Employers has responded to recent media reports that mental health issues and are causing more staff to take sick leave by highlighting measures being taken to "significantly improve" its culture around supporting staff wellbeing.

The organisation which represents NHS health and care employers also says that sickness rates have fallen slightly - but that growing pressure on the wider NHS is reflected in staff stress.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “NHS staff are now more comfortable than they were at reporting stress and mental health problems. The culture in the NHS has improved demonstrably and there is more specialist support. But we cannot be complacent as progress is uneven and the NHS must keep innovating to endure ever-growing demand on its services.

“NHS staff recently told their biggest survey that their managers are doing more to support their health and wellbeing. There are over 50% more programmes supporting staff health and wellbeing now compared to 2010. The rate of sickness absence has fallen in the NHS since 2009, when the current surveys of absence began.

“In December the arms-length bodies and NHS leaders came together to pledge better staff experience and welcomed the focus on it in the NHS Five Year Forward View. Frontline work in the NHS is rewarding but it can be emotionally and physically challenging, so it’s vital those staff have the right support.”

NHS chiefs agreed they need to do more to support its 1.25 million workforce after figures obtained by the BBC revealed 41,112 staff were off sick with anxiety, stress and depression in 2014 – up from 20,207 in 2010.

However, a recent Royal College of Physicians report 'Work and wellbeing in the NHS: why staff health matters to patient care', published on March 13, said that 65% of NHS trusts in England now have a plan for the health and wellbeing of their workforce, up from 41% in 2010.

While the latest NHS Staff Survey also reported an increase in ‘Work pressure felt by staff’ from 3.06 to 3.09 (out of 5), Health and Social Care Information Centre figures show that NHS staff sickness absence rates fell from 4.4% in 2009-10 to 4.06% in 2013/14.

Emma Mamo, from mental health charity Mind, said there had been funding cuts of about 8% to NHS services with 3,000 nursing posts lost.

"These figures could suggest sickness absence relating to mental health problems is on the rise among hospital staff," she said.

"The impact of these cuts, through increased workloads and changes to services, is bound to have an impact on staff morale and wellbeing. It's vital that hospitals put in place measures to help promote good mental health at work for all staff."