Mental health workforce needs ‘radical reform’ to meet patient demands

“Radical reform” is urgently needed to develop a workforce fit to meet the needs of mental ill health sufferers in the future, a damning report has today warned.

Commissioned by NHS Employers and supported by Health Education England (HEE), ‘The future of the mental health workforce’ was drawn up based on insights from service users, carers and professionals and outlines a list of recommendations to build a sustainable workforce.

It also described the commissioning of mental health services as “in crisis”, with a shrinking workforce, growing expectations and exhausting demands piling unprecedented pressure on staff across the country.

Major changes suggested include that GPs be given significant and wide-ranging mental health training, and that mental health professionals should be offered the time and training to consult with doctors and other public service staff to help them respond to more people’s mental health needs.

The report also recommended that professional bodies should join together to develop a range of clear career pathways for mental health professionals, and that services should reach out to schools and colleges to promote careers in mental health to young people.

It suggested that mental health service providers should support the wellbeing of their own workforce and do more to ensure stressed staff are equipped and empowered to do their jobs effectively.

“Those consulted felt that the skills of those working in primary care need to reflect the work they do: that if one in three GP appointments relates to a mental health issue, why have less than half of GPs completed a mental health training placement,” said Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network.

“Examples were given of work with primary care, which increased GPs’ capacity and skill in addressing mental health needs.”

One participant in the study described how they had ongoing dialogue with GPs through regular phone calls, surgery visits and consultations, which Duggan says helps doctors to better understand when to make a referral – thus enabling primary care partners to use systems more effectively.

“Participants discussed how trusts were trying to work better with primary care, for example by working with high referring practices in order to understand what drives the level of referral and what they needed,” he explained.

“Several discussed the benefits of GP surgeries where psychiatric nurses were embedded to provide effective care at the right level.”

Centre for Mental Health’s chief executive, Sarah Hughes, added: “Mental health care relies on people with the right skills, capabilities and knowledge to support others, often at times of crisis or vulnerability. It is all about people helping people, and having the right workforce is crucial for its effectiveness.

“The future mental health workforce will need to be skilled in coproducing services with those who use them; in educating and supporting GPs, teachers and hospital staff; and in engaging with communities.”

Danny Mortimer, the boss of NHS Employers, also commented that his organisation was keen to commission the report because mental health workforce issues are important and not always well understood.

“We hope that the recommendations gain traction across the system so that the mental health workforce is seen as a whole, maximising the contribution of existing roles and developing new roles where the evidence suggests these are required,” he stated.

“We particularly welcome the recommendation to highlight the rewards of working with service users and their families and the focus on the development of the existing workforce.”

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