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Government announces plans to expand mental health workforce

The mental health workforce is set to expand across the NHS following investment from government.

The health service will dramatically increase the number of trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, peer support workers and other mental health professionals to tackle the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness and inadequate treatment.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed government plans to expand the mental health workforce in a bid to tackle the ‘historic imbalance’ in workforce capacity and improve mental health services.

Backed with £1.3 billion funding, the government pledged to:

  • treat an extra 1 million patients by 2020 to 2021
  • provide services 7 days a week, 24 hours a day
  • integrate mental and physical health services for the first time

Health Secretary Jeremy 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. Today is the first step to address this historic imbalance in workforce planning.

“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.

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

The plan, which has been developed by Health Education England (HEE) together with NHS Improvement, NHS England, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other key mental health experts, states that by 2020 to 2021 local areas will need to create 21,000 new posts in priority growth areas. This is in order to deliver the improvements in services and support set out in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

The plan targets areas where there are forecast to be particular shortfalls as demand on services increases. There should be:

  • 2,000 additional nurses, consultants and therapist posts created in child and adolescent mental health services
  • 2,900 additional therapists and other allied health professionals supporting expanded access to adult talking therapies
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings, with the majority of these (4,600) being nursing positions

Perinatal mental health support, liaison and diversion teams and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis should also see significant increases.

To achieve this, the plan sets out measures for how employers retain their existing mental health staff, including targeted support for 20 Trusts with the highest rates of clinical staff exits - alongside a national retention programme to be run by NHS Employers and initiatives to improve career pathways.

There will be a major “Return to Practice” campaign led by HEE to encourage some of the 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 trained mental health nurses not substantively employed by the NHS to return to the profession. NHS Employers will also work with providers to develop more flexible and supportive working environments and help more of them to draw on the skills of recent retirees

A new action plan will be drawn up to attract more clinicians to work in mental health services and psychiatry, including a targeted campaign next year to encourage more trainees to specialise in mental health, as well as encouraging more junior doctors to experience psychiatry as part of their foundation training – either through a new ‘two-week’ taster programme, or through increased availability of rotation placements in psychiatry

New professional roles in mental health will be created to enable more flexible teams and boost capacity, enabling clinical staff to spend more face-to-face time with patients, by providing more support staff to take on the non-clinical tasks.

There will also be co-ordinated action to tackle the high attrition rates among psychiatry trainees, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists working with higher education institutions to improve on-the-job training and support, encourage greater flexibility and develop a new Accelerated Return to Training programme for those who have abandoned training previously

The plan also pledges action to improve the mental health and resilience of its own workforce.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “A damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning in the past has led us to where we are now, with a significant gulf between what’s in place and what’s needed to deliver good quality care. Cuts to mental health services in recent years have led directly to posts being axed and taken its toll on morale, which has led to valued staff leaving mental health in frustration or burn-out. The scale of the challenge is clear, so we welcome the measures announced in this plan to attract people back to mental health and keep hold of them. It’s also good to see recognition of the importance of the multidisciplinary nature of mental health staff, such as peer support workers."

“Mental health services staff do a hugely important job and can make a real difference to the experiences of people accessing mental health services. It’s important to see a focus on the mental wellbeing of the workforce, not least because only when staff are well-supported by their employer can they do their best. Looking after staff also helps retain good people and improve the stability of the workforce in the long run."

“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. This will be particularly important in primary care – where currently less than half of trainee GPs undertake a training placement in a mental health setting. Mind is calling for all GPs and practice nurses to receive structured mental health training that is comprehensive, relevant and supports their ongoing development,” he concluded.


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