Caused more than 68m GP appointments and 3m emergency department visits last year, study shows
Mental, physical and unexplained health conditions associated with stress cost the NHS more than £11bn last year - representing 6.8% of total health expenditure - according to a report by Cigna and Asia Care Group.
The study entitled ‘Chronic Stress: Are we reaching health system burn out?' also found that more than 5.5m inpatient admissions were driven by stress-related illness, making it the largest proportion of stress-related healthcare expenditure (23% of all inpatient spend).
It also accounted for a third of primary care expenditure (33%) at a cost of £1.8bn and £238m to government and the private sector respectively.
The study, which analysed patient data in nine markets, including the UK, US and Australia, found that as many as 25% of global hospital admissions, 19% of emergency department attendances, 35% of primary care visits and 12% of outpatient attendances are likely to be the result of conditions driven by stress.
'Action is needed'
"This research highlights the massive financial burden that stress-related illness is putting on health systems, not only in the UK but across the globe," said Dr Peter Mills, Cigna's medical director. "Although stress will always exist, we believe better awareness and indeed early diagnosis can help people to live happier, more productive lives, reduce physical illness and avoid these significant misdirected costs on our health systems worldwide.
"Action is needed to address the causes of stress in the UK, as well as support people to better manage stress and ensure systems are in place to identify and treat stress-related illness. As a country, our research shows that 72% of Brits suffer from stress, and we urgently need a better understanding of how stress can manifest itself and how employers can play a crucial role in helping their staff better identify and manage stress before it becomes a chronic condition. Luckily there are now a number of health and wellbeing strategies that employers can adopt to create healthier, happier workplaces and moreover, a more caring and open culture, where people feel they can discuss stress-related issues."
The research also found that managing and treating patients who sought medical health for unexplained physical issues or symptoms and mental health conditions commonly associated with stress is also costly. However hospitals with strong primary care in place spend considerably less on stress-related conditions, indicating that preventative, community-based services are effective in managing the clinical and financial risks posed by excessive stress.
"Despite experiencing signs of mental illness caused by chronic stress, many people do not seek medical help straightaway, waiting until they experience physical symptoms," said Dr Mills. "This is likely because in many countries, including the UK, mental health is still taboo and seeking help for physical symptoms has more cultural acceptability.
"Challenging and breaking taboos will encourage people to seek help earlier, potentially reducing the impact and related cost of stress. Healthcare leaders, government, employers and individuals have a role to play in breaking taboos and encouraging people to talk to someone early and finding solutions."
The report follows the launch of Cigna's 'See Stress Differently' campaign last year which found that that 86% of British people are reluctant to seek professional help for stress even though they experience the health repercussions associated with it. These include symptoms such as problems sleeping (85%), headaches (75%) and high blood pressure (71%). Read more.
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