Men­tal health staff cri­sis wors­ens as one in eight quit

Pledge to boost ser­vices for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety hit by 22,018 un­filled jobs

The Observer - - News - De­nis Camp­bell Health Pol­icy Editor

Thou­sands of nurses, ther­a­pists and psy­chi­a­trists are quit­ting NHS men­tal health ser­vices, raising se­ri­ous doubts about min­is­te­rial pledges to dra­mat­i­cally ex­pand the work­force.

Two thou­sand men­tal health staff a month are leav­ing the NHS in Eng­land, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the De­part­ment of Health and So­cial Care (DHSC). The news comes as ser­vices are al­ready se­ri­ously un­der­staffed and strug­gling to cope with a surge in pa­tients seek­ing help for anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and other dis­or­ders.

A to­tal of 23,686 men­tal health staff left the NHS be­tween June 2017 and the end of May this year, health min­is­ter Jackie Doyle-Price told Labour MP Paula Sher­riff last week. That is the equiv­a­lent of one in eight of the sec­tor’s whole work­force. One in 10 men­tal health posts were un­filled at the end of June, Doyle-Price also told Sher­riff, the shadow men­tal health min­is­ter. While 187,215 whole-timee­quiv­a­lent staff work in the sec­tor, the to­tal should be 209,233.

In July last year, the then health sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt promised to in­crease the men­tal health work­force by 21,000 staff – 19,000 of them in the NHS – by 2021 as part of an am­bi­tious plan to treat an ex­tra mil­lion pa­tients a year and pro­vide 24/7 care.

How­ever, by March this year – eight months af­ter Hunt’s pledge – the work­force had only in­creased by 915 ex­tra peo­ple, or 0.5%, Doyle-Price said in an­other writ­ten an­swer.

“These shock­ing fig­ures show the gov­ern­ment is woe­fully fail­ing to meet the prime min­is­ter’s promise to tackle the ‘burn­ing in­jus­tice’ of in­ad­e­quate treat­ment for men­tal ill­ness,” said Sher­riff. “Min­is­ters promised to de­liver the big­gest men­tal health ex­pan­sion in Europe and re­cruit 19,000 more NHS staff. But more than a year later the work­force has in­creased by fewer than 1,000.”

Many men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als say un­der­staffing is a key rea­son why so many peo­ple face lengthy waits for treat­ment. Chris Hop­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of NHS Providers, which rep­re­sents trusts pro­vid­ing all types of NHS care, has warned that staff short­ages mean men­tal health trusts can­not meet rapidly ris­ing de­mand. Fewer than a third of trust chairs and chief ex­ec­u­tives be­lieve the gov­ern­ment’s plans will de­liver enough staff, es­pe­cially psy­chi­a­trists and men­tal health nurses. The clam­p­down on NHS pay since 2010 has hit staffing lev­els and Brexit may make things worse, Hop­son fears.

Un­der­staffing across the NHS as a whole is the worst it has ever been, of­fi­cial fig­ures showed last week. A record 107,743 va­can­cies in­cludes a short­fall of 11,576 doc­tors and 41,722 nurses.

The DHSC said: “We want to see par­ity be­tween phys­i­cal and men­tal health, which is why we’re trans­form­ing ser­vices sup­ported by record amounts of fund­ing, and am­bi­tious plans to in­crease the work­force. In ad­di­tion to ex­pand­ing the men­tal health work­force, the gov­ern­ment also recog­nises that re­tain­ing our skilled staff is cru­cial, which is why NHS Im­prove­ment and NHS Eng­land have been rolling out a spe­cial re­ten­tion pro­gramme.”

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