More than half a million (510,281) days were lost to absence due to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses in May 2020, the month that followed the worst of the pandemic so far in terms of death rates.
Those issues accounted for more than a quarter (28.3%) of all absences, and represented a 37% increase on the days lost in the previous year, when 371,242 full-time equivalent days were lost.
The Liberal Democrats said official figures showed thousands had “endured life-altering trauma and immeasurable excess stress” while working under strict Covid protocols and watching many patients die.
The party, which analysed the figures, urged the government to respond with proposals to provide “world class” mental support for health and care staff.
Lib Dem members are expected to pass a motion at the party’s conference on Friday pushing to strengthen services for “under pressure and overstretched” staff, including ancillary workers such as porters and cleaners.
They will demand that the Covid-19 support hotline is available 24/7, to scrap HR practices which encourage staff to work when they are not feeling up to it, and to introduce an “occupational health passport” so workers do not have to relive mental health traumas when they change jobs.
Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “This dreadful pandemic has taken more than just a physical toll.
“It has had hugely negative consequences for people’s mental health too.
“As these figures make clear, this has been especially true for health and care workers, who have been on the front line of the crisis.
“Thousands have endured life-altering trauma and immeasurable excess stress.
“Even before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of days were lost each year due to absence related to mental health conditions.
“To ensure our health and care service is...