NHS staff took almost 7,000 full-time days of sick leave because of drug or alcohol abuse last year, figures reveal.

Charity Alcohol Change UK said that heavy drinking or drug use could damage the mental health of NHS staff and impact on their decision-making.

Between December 2017 and November 2018, NHS employees across England were absent from work because of substance abuse for a combined total of almost 7,000 full-time days - the equivalent of 19 years - according to NHS Digital.

Mark Leyshon, senior research and policy manager at Alcohol Change UK, said many people may drink to cope with work-related stress and other pressures.

He said: "Drinking to manage stress may be common, but that doesn't mean it works - it may even increase anxiety longer term.

"It also impacts on work performance, resulting in absenteeism, impaired decision-making and damaged relations with co-workers - and in the vital roles done by NHS employees these performance problems have a particularly concerning potential impact."

A total of 107 NHS trusts and three Clinical Commissioning Groups recorded staff absences because of substance abuse last year.

The data does not distinguish between sick leave taken by medical staff responsible for patient care and administrative and managerial staff.

However, similar figures released in recent years show the majority of substance abuse sick days were taken by clinical staff, including doctors, nurses, midwives, and their support staff, and therapeutic or technical staff such as radiographers, cardiologists and physiotherapists.

Alcohol Change UK said it was important for the NHS to make staff aware of the risks of alcohol and drug abuse, and put support in place for them.

Mr Leyshon continued: "The starting point is to provide a safe and healthy working environment, including one in which staff are not overworked.

"One of the most important things an employer can do is work to create a climate of openness that is more about identifying problems and encouraging people towards support, and less about punishment."

A spokesman for NHS England and NHS Improvement said: "NHS staff struggling with drug and alcohol problems deserve compassionate support like anyone else, which is why the NHS has set up programmes such as the GP Health Service that can help them.

"However, patient safety is paramount and if a staff member were to come to work under the influence they would be subject to well-established disciplinary procedures.

"For doctors and nurses this could also involve scrutiny of their fitness to practice by their professional regulator."