NHS mental health support

The future of the NHS mental health workforce

As demand continues to grow, health and care leaders have today highlighted that bolstering the mental health workforce will be crucial to the future of the NHS and the healthcare system as a whole.

The expansion is especially needed to level out health inequalities, which include:

  • Two-thirds of people with common mental health issues not receiving formal treatment
  • Some mental health inpatient services having high bed occupancy, staff sickness and vacancy levels, making the provision of high-quality care more difficult
  • Those with the poorest mental health also having the worst access to support
  • People with mental ill health experiencing a 15-20 year shorter life expectancy, as well as being five times more likely to die before 75

“The mental health workforce needs to grow”

Building a mental health workforce for the future has been developed using insight from a roundtable co-hosted by the Centre for Mental Health, Mind, and the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

Other participants included the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, and the Royal College of Nursing.

“The mental health workforce needs to grow to help services to meet rising levels of need,” said Andy Bell, chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health. “But it also needs to diversify and offer people a wider range of opportunities to work in mental health.”

Below are some of the key insights.

Recruitment

In order to improve mental health care provision, growing people’s mental health awareness – particularly young people – could improve recruitment.

Training

The expansion of mental health training should encompass more multi-disciplinary training and come with a larger focus on social models and interventions. Mental health care should also form a part of all health professional training.

Curriculum

Modernised curricula that reflects modern mental health pressures and recognises the role of digital technology will be the foundation of future learning.

“We must plan now for the kind of skills and services we will require”

Retention

Healthcare leaders must understand why people leave and how they might be persuaded to stay, which could include flexible working arrangements or more career developmental opportunities.

Wellbeing

With so many still feeling the impacts of things like the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, it is essential wellbeing support covers the entire mental health workforce and has protected funding for as long as it is needed.

New roles

The new positions that have recently been created or expanded in the sector should not represent a substitute for existing roles and must instead form a more holistic mental health care offer.

Leadership

Inclusive and diverse leadership is crucial to delivering compassionate care and should be properly harnessed, although the roles of those with vast experience of the mental health sector should be boosted too.

Voluntary and community sector

Ensure that voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations (VCSE) are valued accordingly regarding pay.

Wider workforce

Building mental health expertise in the wider workforce can help meet more people’s needs and improve system capacity.

System change

Leaders should look to understand how service provision may look in the future and build a workforce in line with that vision. Given mental health care spans NHS, local government, VCSE, and private providers, integrated care boards could help consolidate these service offerings and help people more effectively.

Andy Bell added: “We must plan now for the kind of skills and services we will require in a decade’s time. And we need to support the workforce we have with decent working conditions in compassionate organisations.”

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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