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A NHS Workforce Plan Is Essential To Transforming Mental Health Services

01/08/2017 09:14
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The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently announced a plan that aims to see 21,000 more mental health workers recruited over the next five years. Put together by Health Education England, it's hoped that the recruitment of thousands of additional nurses, therapists and consultants over the next five years will benefit an extra one million people who need support from mental health services by 2020-21.

Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, welcome this plan, which we believe to be instrumental to the successful delivery of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health - the NHS's overarching plan for improving mental health services between now and 2021. It's good to see the Government recognise how heavily mental health services depend on the capacity and quality of the workforce. After all, we know that the support of a great nurse, doctor, psychologist or social worker can make all the difference to people's lives.

While welcome, this plan comes within a broader context of a historic lack of funding and physical health services being prioritised over mental health. A damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning in the past has contributed 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 directly led to posts being axed. The result is that valued conscientious staff have often been left lacking morale, feeling demotivated, frustrated and facing burn-out. The scale of the challenge is clear. But it's not just about recruiting extra staff - it's about attracting and retaining good staff who are passionate and committed, and the Government has acknowledged this in their plan. They also recognised the importance of the multidisciplinary nature of mental health staff, such as peer support workers.

Staff working within NHS mental health services do a hugely important job, often in very challenging conditions. They can and do make a real difference to the experiences of people accessing mental health services, many of whom can be vulnerable, particularly those who need crisis care. Failure to properly prioritise the mental wellbeing of mental health staff - including addressing issues such as understaffing - can have dire consequences that affect not just employees but service users too. That's why we're pleased to see a focus within the plan on the mental wellbeing of the workforce, not least because only when staff are well-supported by their employer can they do their best. As with any other employer, making the mental health of your staff a priority is crucial to retaining good people and improving the stability of the workforce in the long run - and the NHS is no exception.

This plan takes us to 2021, but what happens after that? As the misunderstanding surrounding mental health dissipates, and awareness increases, thanks in large part to anti-stigma movements such as Time to Change, jointly run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, we will no doubt see more and more people identify, acknowledge and seek help for their own mental health. This is hugely positive, as it normalises mental health. However, it means that inevitably, demand for mental health services will continue to rise.

We urgently need a longer-term, comprehensive strategy to carry us into the future. One that can meet the increased demand and 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 within primary care which is often the gateway to support for people with mental health problems seeking help for the first time. Despite the high proportion of patients presenting with a mental health problem, currently less than half of trainee GPs undertake a training placement in a mental health setting. Mind is calling for GPs and practice nurses to receive structured mental health training that is comprehensive, relevant and supports their ongoing development. Offering more training would help patients get the best outcomes while also alleviating some of the pressure GPs and practice nurses experience on a daily basis.

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