It has been announced by the UK government that thousands more NHS mental health workers will be employed. The aim is to be able to treat an additional one million mental health patients by 2020-21 by employing extra nurses, consultants and therapists.
Jeremy Hunt, the minister for health, recognised and pledged to end the ‘historic imbalance’ between mental and physical health. The government plan to fund this with the additional £1bn already pledged to the NHS. The Royal College of Nursing raised concerns that the plans do not add up and highlighted the time required to provide adequate training to any new staff.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “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.
“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.”
Mr Hunt said the measures were “ambitious” and amounted to “one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe”. “We want people with mental health conditions to receive better treatment, and part of that means having the right NHS staff.
“We know we need to do much more to attract, retain and support the mental health workforce of the future – today is the first step to address this historic imbalance in workforce planning.”
The plans include:
- 2,000 more nurses, consultants and therapist posts in child and adolescent mental health services
- 2,900 additional therapists and health professionals supporting adult talking therapies
- 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings
- more mental health support for women around the time they give birth and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis
Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, Barbara Keeley, said the government was “promising only jam tomorrow, when what is needed is action today. The workforce plan provides no real answers on how these new posts will be funded or how recruitment issues will be overcome,” she added. “And it offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale.”
Prof Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said “You would expect to see a consultant if you had cancer and the same applies for mental health. The biggest challenge to creating robust mental health services is the workforce. I am very supportive of this strategy which starts to tackle that problem.”
Such announcements are good news, however the importance is in it following through to reality. The government is to be applauded if and when these plans are met, just as they are to be heavily criticised if these plans are proven to amount to empty promises.