Interim NHS People Plan promises to tackle mental health nurse shortages

But Council of Deans of Health criticises NHS workforce plan for lack of funding commitment and student support

Council of Deans of Health criticises lack of funding commitment and calls for tuition fee payments for nursing students

‘Vital’ for the NHS to work with higher education institutions to help combat workforce
shortage, says Council of Deans of Health. Picture: iStock

‘Urgent action’ to tackle nursing vacancies in mental health settings and promote the role of mental health nurses is being promised in the new workforce plan for the NHS.

But a lack of recommendations for additional financial support for mental health nursing students has been criticised by the Council of Deans of Health (CoDH), the organisation representing UK universities with nursing programmes.

Detailed review pledge

The interim NHS People Plan, published at the start of June, acknowledges the need to take specific actions to tackle areas of nursing with the greatest nurse shortages.

It pledges a detailed review across all branches of pre-registration nursing, ‘including a strong focus on the steps needed in mental health nursing’, to support growth in these areas.  

Brian Webster-Henderson
Picture: John Houlihan

CoDH chair Brian Webster-Henderson said it was ‘vital’ for the NHS to work with higher education institutions to support education delivery in areas of workforce shortage, but criticised a lack of funding commitment.

Professor Webster-Henderson said: ‘Although the plan suggests promoting mental health and learning disability nursing, it stops short of recommending additional financial support to attract and retain students in these areas.

Maintenance grants

‘We have called for maintenance grants for healthcare students and for tuition fee payment for postgraduates.

‘This is particularly relevant for mental health and learning disability nursing as students in these subjects are often mature entrants.

‘The omission of student support in the interim plan is a missed opportunity, which we hope will be addressed by the full People Plan following the spending review.’

Other actions promised include:

  • Working with higher education institutions to rapidly identify and address branches of nursing that risk future shortages.
  • Promoting and raising profile of nursing roles in mental health, learning disability and/or autism.
  • Increasing clinical placements, successful applications to nursing courses and reducing student attrition.
  • Widening access to the professions through apprenticeship programmes.
  • Supporting trusts to improve retention, plus additional hands-on support for specialised areas, such as high-secure hospitals.

The interim plan has been developed with a number of health organisations, including the RCN, NHS Improvement and Health Education England.

Further information

NHS (2019) Interim NHS People Plan

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