Government announces expansion of mental health workforce

New plan unveiled to seek 21,000 new posts across the NHS

Published on 4th August 2017

The mental health workforce is set to expand by 21,000 new posts, the government has announced.

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 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.”

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 includes:

  • 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.

There will also be increased roles in perinatal mental health support, liaison and diversion teams and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis.

The plan sets out measures for how the additional posts can be recruited to. Employers will be encouraged to retain their existing mental health staff, and there will be targeted support for 20 Trusts with the highest rates of clinical staff exits.

A national retention programme will 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 people who have recently retired.

A new action plan will be drawn up in a bid 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. Junior doctors will be encouraged 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

In addition to this, new professional roles will be created in mental health 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.

As a result of these measures and the new posts, which are backed with £1.3 billion funding, the government says that 24/7 mental health services will be available for patients and an extra one million patients will be treated by 2020 to 2021. Physical and mental health services will be integrated for the first time under the proposals.

Jeremy Hunt said: “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.

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."

He called for continued long-term investment past 2021 to ensure a 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”.

Royal College of Occupational Therapists’ CEO Julia Scott welcomed the announcement saying it was “long overdue”.

“We are seeking confirmation from the Department of Health that these plans include increasing the number of occupational therapy posts across mental health services. Occupational therapists have unique expertise in this area and can help promote active engagement in life for those who experience mental distress. They also have a vital role to play in changing the culture of mental health services so they can develop more co-produced, Recovery focused services,” said Ms Scott.

“However, health and care services across the country and particularly in London are experiencing real difficulties in filling existing vacancies, with vacancy rates for occupational therapists of up to 50%. So we continue to call for the Department of Health and Health Education England to take rapid action to address this crisis. Unless they do so, it will be extremely difficult for them to deliver on today’s commitment,” she warned.


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