The new mental health taskforce plan is welcome, but doesn’t go far enough
New proposals, developed by Health Education England (HEE), announced today (31 July) present plans to increase the number of mental health professionals available in England. This ambitious strategy promises 21,000 new mental health posts across nurses, psychiatrists and support workers, as well as plans to improve retention of current staff.
This ambition is to be welcomed; chronic understaffing means that mental health services have consistently struggled to cope with rising demand. In many areas of the country there just isn’t enough properly trained staff to deliver the high quality, safe care people need.
This rising demand for services and financial pressure across the NHS have lead to the difficulties in recruitment and retention that today’s plan hopes to tackle.
So today's announcement is a welcome step towards plugging these gaps. We particularly welcome the commitment to ensure mental health staff have the skills to treat the whole person, rather than separating out physical and mental health unnecessarily.
However, the funding for this project is not strictly ‘new money’; it is part of the sum already promised by the Government to support mental health. Essentially this is a more detailed plan of how existing funds, which are already stretched as far as they will go, will be spent in regards to staff.
Danielle Hamm, Associate Director of Campaigns and Policy at Rethink Mental Illness said,
“Chronic understaffing means that mental health services in England too often struggle to meet rising demand. In many areas, there simply aren’t enough properly trained staff to deliver high quality, safe care. Our mental health services desperately need investment in the workforce. And people with mental illness need to be confident that the right support will be there when they need it.”
Detailed planning and further long term investment in mental health are the only way to ensure we’ll get a highly skilled, well supported workforce that is fit for the future.
We share NHS England’s vision of a motivated, skilled workforce but there are some concerns about how this can be achieved with a plan that hardly touches on this stigma. There are plans to ‘improve mental health awareness’ amongst staff, but this is a major issue that impacts both patients and professionals and needs to be tackled head on.
One in three people using mental health services still report experiencing stigma within those services. Much more need to be done to create a culture amongst clinicians and other staff that ensures no one going for help experiences discrimination when they get there.
Stigma amongst professionals not only affects those using services, but the working culture too. We know that many clinicians find it difficult to talk about their own mental health. The reasons behind this are complex, but include concerns about stigma and being seen as ‘weak’ in front of their colleagues and patients. These issues are particularly pertinent in a workforce that is increasingly struggling with low morale.
Not including further measures to tackle this feels like a missed opportunity in the new workforce plan.
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