Stress found to be a major healthcare cost driver in the UK


A new report from Cigna has found that stress-related illness is the biggest health expenditure in the UK, costing the NHS over £11 billion per year

The health insurer’s report, titled Chronic Stress: Are we reaching health system burn out?, analysed ‘the most up-to-date’ patient data to uncover the annual expenditure on stress-related illness across both the NHS and private care sector, revealing that this was indeed the largest single area of spend in the UK health sector today. In fact, the more than £11 billion cost represents 6.8 per cent of total health expenditure.

For reference, the term ‘stress-related illnesses’ covers stress-related mental illnesses, stress that manifests as medically unexplained conditions, and stress that manifests as physical symptoms.

The report also found that more than three million emergency department visits were driven by stress-related illness; that more than nine million outpatient attendances were related to stress; and that over 5.5 million inpatient admissions were driven by stress-related illness, as the largest proportion of stress-related healthcare expenditure, this accounted for 23 per cent of all inpatient spend.

In addition, stress was revealed to account for one-third of primary care expenditure (33 per cent), costing the government £1.8 billion and the private sector £238 million.

“Despite experiencing signs of mental illness caused by chronic stress, many people do not seek medical help straightaway, waiting until they experience physical symptoms,” commented Dr Peter Mills, Cigna Medical Director. “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.”

The research also looked beyond the impact of stress-related illness in the UK, analysing nine global markets, including the US and Australia, in order to obtain a global picture of the financial burden that stress-related illness is putting on health systems. It uncovered that as many as 25 per cent of hospital admissions, 19 per cent of emergency department attendances, 35 per cent of primary care visits, and 12 per cent of outpatient attendances worldwide are likely to be the result of conditions driven by stress.

“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. 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,” said Dr Mills.

Dr Mills advised ‘challenging and breaking taboos’ to encourage people to seek help earlier, which he believes could potentially reduce 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.”

Read the full report here.