Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently introduced a proposal to increase the number of posts by 21,000, investing a total of £1.3bn. According to him this new funding will be able to help the struggling NHS cope with the influx of patients. Whether or not any of these new posts will be in the Mental Health sector is unclear.
As Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, recently stated: “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”1. Farmer also highlighted that recent cuts to mental health services has led to the axing of posts and added stress for those whose jobs are on the line. Therefore, you would think that any promise of 21,000 new posts would inspire confidence, although what many forget or don't realise is that there has already been a decline of 6,000 mental health posts since 2010, as the graph below shows.
Decline in NHS nurse numbers
A large number of young people in mental health hospitals are being left behind as support remains unavailable - the wait list sometimes many weeks or months long before they can be discharged. The chief executive of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan, recently said that “intensive community mental health support should be available for every child regardless of where they live, to prevent their issues escalating and avoid them being admitted to hospital.” Additionally, the number of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) availability of beds has increased from 71% in 1999, to around 1,440. However, almost half of these are private sector beds2.
The new funding, if passed, could go a long way to improve conditions within hospitals and mental health institutions under the NHS. Employees could have their pay rises guaranteed, more money could go towards equipment, and thus care for patients would be more likely to improve. However, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley, stated that “the workforce plan provides no real answers on how these new posts will be funded or how recruitment issues will be overcome... it offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale.’’ She also added that the Labour Party would be able to reinstate bursaries for nurses, ring-fence funding, and lift the 1% pay-cap if elected into power.4
The question of whether training in a short space of time is feasible, as well as whether or not there are enough resources to do so, is also backed by The Royal College of Nursing (RCN). The chief executive of the RCN, Janet Davies, has since said that the Government’s new policies just don’t add up and that “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”. She also added that, under the current Government, “there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed”.5
Another issue to consider is that since the Brexit decision, the status of EU nationals living in the UK is uncertain. When you consider that non-UK workers make up 12% of NHS staff, that could mean a considerable decrease in the efficiency and number of the workforce6. The ramifications of these factors, however, may not be immediately obvious as it is still unclear just how long it will take for this new budget to be passed through and for the changes to be seen. It would be nice to believe that we will see improved patient experiences, better quality resources, higher number of staff, as well as staff happiness, but at the moment it all seems far-fetched and out of reach. Given the current government’s record with the NHS, there isn’t much hope that these ‘improvements’ are in the best interest and will actually be used wisely. For now, we cross our fingers.
Graph 1: Decline in NHS nurse numbers https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/jeremy-hunts-misleading-mental-health-claims
1 Topping, Alexandra (2017) ‘Mental health sector gives mixed response to £1.3bn plan for better services’ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/31/mental-health-sector-gives-mixed-response-to-13bn-plan-for-better-services
3 Laromani, Checan (2017) ‘Is The Government taking Mental Health Seriously Enough?’ http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/checan-laromani/mental-health_b_17646640.html
5 Nagesh, Ashitha (2017) ‘Government promises 21,000 new mental health posts by 2021’ http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/31/government-promises-21000-new-mental-health-posts-by-2021-6817908/
6 ‘House of Commons Library, NHS staff from overseas: statistics’ http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7783