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One in ten NHS healthcare workers experienced suicidal thoughts during pandemic, study finds

Press release issued: 21 June 2023

Approximately one in ten NHS healthcare workers experienced suicidal thoughts during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, finds a new University of Bristol-led study published in PLOS ONE today [21 June].

Concerns were raised about the risk of suicide among healthcare workers during the pandemic after a number of high-profile cases were reported in the media. Researchers from the University of Bristol, King’s College London and UCL (University College London), sought to investigate the prevalence and incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviour among NHS healthcare workers in England and their relationship with occupational risk factors.

The team analysed responses from the NHS CHECK longitudinal online surveys completed by healthcare workers (clinical and non-clinical), students, and volunteers in 18 NHS Trusts across England during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses from 12,514 participants were completed at baseline, and 7,160 participants at 6 months follow up, between April 2020 and August 2021.

Results highlighted that exposure to events that went against moral values, a lack of confidence about raising safety concerns, and these concerns being addressed, feeling unsupported by managers, and having to provide a reduced standard of care, significantly contributed to staff distress during the pandemic. At the second six-month time point, among clinicians, a lack of confidence about safety concerns being addressed, independently predicted suicidal thoughts.

Paul Moran, Professor of Psychiatry at Bristol’s Centre for Academic Mental Health and one of the study’s lead authors, said: “Our findings show that several modifiable workplace risk factors, such as exposure to events that may have gone against a health worker’s moral code, providing a reduced standard of care, or feeling unsupported by managers all increased the likelihood of suicidal thoughts being reported by healthcare workers.”

Dr Prianka Padmanathan, Honorary Research Fellow at Bristol’s Centre for Academic Mental Health and one of the study’s lead authors, added: “Our analyses show that among healthcare workers who had not experienced suicidal thoughts when first completing the survey, one-in-ten reported experiencing them six months later. Additionally, almost one in 25 staff reported having attempted suicide for the first time.

“These findings highlight the scale of mental health issues across the NHS at a time of unprecedented concern. Improvements in mental health support and addressing structural issues around workforce and resources might significantly reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviour among health care workers.”

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, NHS CHECK Chief Investigator and Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London added: “Let’s not forget that having a job is usually better for our mental health than not having a job.  But sometimes the nature of the job can increase stress and strain on the individual. In these cases this work reminds us that the best source of support to maintain your health and wellbeing are not mental health professionals or the people in charge of your organisation. It is the person next above you - your immediate supervisor, manager or report, and the people around you - your friends, family and colleagues.”

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome, Rosetrees Trust, Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC] and National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care, NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, King's College London and NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King's College London.


Suicidal thoughts and behaviour among healthcare workers in England during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal study‘ by Prianka Padmanathan et al. in PLOS ONE [open access].

Further information

Further information

Samaritans can be contacted by anyone FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on a phone bill.  

Or email or visit to find details of a nearby branch, to talk to a trained volunteer face to face. 

PAPYRUS operates HOPELINEUK, a confidential support and advice service for children and young people under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned for a young person who might be you can contact HOPELINEUK for confidential support and practical advice on 0800 068 4141.

If you need help during a mental health crisis or emergency, NHS urgent mental health helplines provide 24-hour advice and support for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for, help to speak to a mental health professional, and an assessment to help decide on the best course of care. Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline here.

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research
The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

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