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 illness was 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 mental 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.

Cause of staff absence

Rank  Cause of Staff Absence  Percentage of Staff Absence 
1 Psychiatric Illnesses 25.6%
2 Influenza, Cold and Cough 15.3%
3 Musculoskeletal Problems 8.2%
4 Gastrointestinal Problems 7.3%
5 Other Known Causes 6.0%
6 Injury Fracture 4.5%
7 Back Problems 3.9%
8 Endocrine and Glandular Problems & Genitourinary and Gynaecological Disorders 3.2%
9 Infectious Disease & Unknown Causes 2.8%
10 Benign or Malignant Tumours and Cancer 2.6%


A spokesperson from has commented on the findings:

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.

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.