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Investing for mental health staff


Mental health has never been more important or more prominent. Thanks to the likes of Princes William and Harry raising awareness and other high profile campaigns it’s no longer seen as the poor relation of physical health. Mental health is finally getting the attention it deserves.


But with greater awareness comes increased recruitment for mental health staff and therefore funding. The Government has recently announced a £1.3bn injection into mental health services and for the first time, the integration of physical and mental health services.


It sounds great on paper, but does it really stack up?


Government boost to mental health services


Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement to recruit 21,000 more mental health workers over the next five years is great news. This increased health and social care recruitment will help the NHS treat a million extra patients by 2021 with a focused drive to attract both doctors and nurses as well as therapists and allied healthcare workers.


Following the announcement, Hunt said, “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.”.

On the face of it, the government plans for health workers are good news and will lead to an increase in jobs and better recruitment. But not everyone is convinced, with some, including the Royal College of Nursing, questioning whether it’s all just a bit too good to be true.


What exactly does the new policy really mean?


The Government proposals set out plans for a national retention programme which will be run by NHS employers as well as a major campaign to encourage experienced workers to return to the profession. The campaign, which will be run by Health Education England (HEE) will target those with the right skills and experience but perhaps not recruited previously by the NHS.


The Government also plans to encourage more clinicians into mental health roles by offering two-week taster programmes or by increasing the availability of rotation placements. In addition, there are proposals to offer more flexibility for mental health roles as well as seven days a week, 24-hour access for mental health patients.


Will it work?


The plans have been largely well received but many stakeholders agree it needs to be carefully implemented.


Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of HEE, said, “The workforce plan we have agreed with our partners across the system is based on the most comprehensive and robust study of the mental health workforce to date. We do not underestimate the scale of this challenge, to deliver the improvements we have said are required will require concerted action and focus from everyone working across the health and care system.”


The Royal College of Nursing has gone one step further arguing that, “There is already a dangerous lack of workforce planning and accountability” and that the Government will need to work really hard just to get back to the specialist mental health levels of 2010.


However, chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies, said they welcomed the development of new supporting roles as long as their responsibilities were clearly defined to avoid down-banding or substitution.


Is it enough?


The Government proposals are a step in the right direction but there needs to be long term provision with plenty of support so those proposals become a sustainable reality.


The funding needs to provide long term stability – with increased mental health awareness there will be a growing number of patients accessing those services.


Mental health charity Mind, which welcomed the funding announcement after years of cuts, said, “This plan takes us 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.


“Such a strategy needs to include staff working in independent and voluntary sector services, and social care, as well as a commitment to developing a level of understanding of mental health for all frontline NHS staff working in non-mental health services.”



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