Hunt’s plan for 21,000 new mental health staff ‘does not add up’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has today pledged £1.3bn funding to provide England with 21,000 more mental health staff, such as nurses, therapists and psychiatrists, to ease bed occupancy rates and reduce waiting times – but health leaders are sceptical around the plan’s lack of details and unclear timescales.

The plans have been put in place to tackle the “historic imbalance” between physical and mental health funding by 2021, and is hoped to help treat an extra one million patients a year.

Hunt has also promised round-the-clock integrated psychiatric services for the first time, and will continue his push towards making services available to patients seven days a week.

Included in the plan are ambitions to encourage 4,000 psychiatrists into the workforce, 2,000 more professionals for children’s and young people’s mental health and 3,000 staff dedicated to depression and anxiety services.

“As we embark on one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe it is crucial we have the right people in post – that’s why we’re supporting those already in the profession to stay and giving incentives to those considering a career in mental health,” the secretary of state said.

“These measures are ambitious, but essential for delivering the high-performing and well-resourced mental health services we all want to see.”

Chief executive of NHS Employers Danny Mortimer argued that the government and NHS England were right to prioritise mental health services.

“This focus on the workforce that provides this care is hugely welcome – especially given the pressures and challenges staff are facing,” he stated. “Service providers will absolutely play their part in delivering this ambitious plan.

“They will also look forward to national support, particularly for improved access to funding for continuing professional development for the mental health workforce, and facilitating increased use of international staff where required."

But other health organisations have raised concern around the likelihood that the proposed plans can actually be delivered fully by 2021.

“It is welcome that the government is setting this laudable ambition and investment in the mental health workforce is always welcome,” said Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing. “However, the government’s policies appear not to add up.  

“If these nurses were going to be ready in time, they would be starting training next month. But we have seen that the withdrawal of the bursary has led to a sharp fall in university applications and we are yet to see funding for additional places.

“There is already a dangerous lack of workforce planning and accountability and this report is unable to provide detail on how the ambitions will be met.”

Davies added that it is clear the government will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in mental health services in 2010. “Under this government, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed,” she stated.

“For as long as parity of esteem between physical and mental health services remains rhetoric, this picture will not improve. The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans.”

The deputy chair of the BMA Consultants Committee, Dr Gary Wannan, agreed that the money was welcome, but argued that it failed to address other issues in the mental health sector.

“Mental health provision has been historically underfunded, so commitments to bring the funding and accessibility of psychiatric services into line with physical health are welcome, but as we’ve seen from recent CQC reports and our own research into out-of-area placements, bed occupancy rates are dangerously high and some buildings and estates in mental health trusts are entirely unfit for purpose,” he explained.

“Community services are under significant and increasing pressure due to increased demand. There has been insufficient recruitment of psychiatry trainees across England and a high percentage of trainees do not complete training in the specialty.

“Employers must get to grips with why doctors, nurses, therapists and other mental health workers leave this path if they are genuine in their aim of retaining and recruiting staff.”

Paul Farmer, the CEO of influential mental health charity Mind who wrote for our latest edition, embraced the plan’s recruitment and retention ambitions, which he argued are necessary to deliver the FYFV for Mental Health. But he emphasised that the plan only takes the NHS up to 2021.

“We now need a longer-term, further-reaching strategy to build the kind of NHS mental health services that will carry us into the future, to cope with inevitable rising demand and to provide better integration of mental and physical health services,” Farmer concluded.

Top Image: Isabel Infantes 

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Simon Forster   31/07/2017 at 15:23

The NHS needs to think as an international recruiter and reward the workforce favourably when compared to other post-industrial countries. Most UK trained psychiatrists and mental health nurses can earn a lot more, with much better life/work balances in other places, such as the middle east and Oceania. We are experiencing a brain drain, with no incentive to stay in the UK, other than loyalty or having a partner or children who cannot move. We used to have early retirement on good pensions, thanks to mental health officer status. Now all we have is to be told by Jeremy Hunt that he has a plan and how great the NHS is. Anyone working in the NHS can see that this is at the price of everyone mining to exhaustion, their seam of goodwill. Psychologists are leaving in droves for private practice and preparing court reports, which again offers more rewarding work, with less pressure and an achievable life/work balance. Trainees can work out for themselves on which side their bread is buttered.

Arline Gray   31/07/2017 at 15:50

I am an R.M.N. and C.P.N. of 44 years experience. I left the NHS for private practice because of the unfair treatment and wages even as an experienced G grade we were working to H grade and not getting recognised or paid. This country does not have a massive shortage of nurses. It has a massive problem in retention. Many of my experienced colleagues are managing garden centres, shopping malls etc, where they feel valued and get paid a reasonable salary and pension. I gave 25 years of my life to the NHS for a pension of £148 per month and that is taxed at 40% because I still work as a manager in the private sector. You are taxing experienced staff like me out of the workplace. Start to support and value your existing staff and you may see a return to the NHS of the thousands of leavers !

John Peers   31/07/2017 at 15:53

Hard to take seriously anything from the DoH whilst they sit back and watch a catastrophic collapse in MH nurse training figures..

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