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Government targets mental health workforce 'historic imbalances'

OVERWHELMING: The demand on mental health services is expected to be too great

The Government has unveiled a plan to address ‘historic imbalances’ in the mental health workforce – and claims it will boost posts in some psychiatric sub-specialties by up to 350 per cent.

Its mental health workforce plan, released today, wants the number of consultants caring for children and young people in crisis to be raised from 20 to 70 by April 2021.

The number of consultants in perinatal care would be boosted by 126 per cent under the plan and raised by 74 per cent in liaison mental health. Ministers expect a 47 per cent increase from 1,220 at present to 1,790 across all the sub-specialty groups they want to expand.

The proposed expansion in consultant posts is part of a wider ambition to create 21,000 posts for psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists at a cost of £1.3bn.

Ministers want:

  • 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 qualified nurses to be attracted back to the NHS with a major ‘return to practice campaign
  • A‘targeted campaign’ to encourage junior doctors to specialise in psychiatry
  • ‘Coordinated action’ to stop those that do from dropping out.

The ambitions come despite all these areas being traditionally difficult to recruit to – and recent workforce promises failing to deliver.

HEE (Health Education England), the agency driving the plan, said it will also explore with medical schools whether the ‘popular and rigorous’ A level in psychology could be considered of ‘equal merit’ to ‘pure science’ qualifications.

HEE chief executive professor Ian Cumming said he did not ‘underestimate’ the scale of the challenge. ‘This plan is a significant step to make the improvements to care we all know are needed a reality.'


Problem recognised

BMA consultants committee deputy chair and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Gary Wannan welcomed the Government’s recognition that mental health services would be unable to cope with increasing demand.

‘Mental health provision has been historically underfunded, so commitments to bring the funding and accessibility of psychiatric services into line with physical health are welcome,’ he added.

‘Community services are under significant and increasing pressure due to increased demand.'

Dr Wannan pointed to recent research by the BMA and the Care Quality Commission which revealed that patients were often forced to travel hundreds of miles for care and that buildings in some trusts were ‘unfit for purpose’.

‘There has been insufficient recruitment of psychiatry trainees across England and a high percentage of trainees do not complete training in the specialty,’ he added. ‘In 2014, one-in-five doctors undertaking core psychiatry training did not progress into the final part of their training.

‘Similarly GPs, who manage a great number of patients with mental health problems, will profit from more training but also require additional resources and more consultation time to be in the best position to take care of people.’

The workforce plans was also welcomed by the Royal College of Psychiatry and NHS Employers.

RCPsych president professor Wendy Burn said she welcomed the pledge for extra consultants as they would be ‘crucial to delivering the high-quality, robust mental health services of the future’.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘This focus on the workforce that provides this care is hugely welcome – especially given the pressures and challenges staff are facing.’

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