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‘Urgent action needed’ on staffing in children’s mental health services

Recruitment and retention issues existed pre-COVID and pressure on services is increasing
Picture of a boy sitting on a bed and pressing his face against his knees.

Recruitment and retention issues existed pre-COVID and pressure on services is increasing, says RCN

A nursing leader has urged the government to urgently address nurse recruitment and retention issues in children and young peoples mental health services (CYPMHS) .

RCN professional lead for mental health Stephen Jones said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated existing pressures on a sector coping with nursing shortages and increased demand.

Impact of school closures and wider pandemic on childrens mental health

The call follows the publication of a report by children

Recruitment and retention issues existed pre-COVID and pressure on services is increasing, says RCN

Picture of a boy sitting on a bed and pressing his face against his knees.
Picture: iStock

A nursing leader has urged the government to ‘urgently’ address nurse recruitment and retention issues in children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS).

RCN professional lead for mental health Stephen Jones said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated existing pressures on a sector coping with nursing shortages and increased demand.

Impact of school closures and wider pandemic on children’s mental health

The call follows the publication of a report by children’s commissioner Anne Longfield that says mental health services are ‘nowhere near’ to meeting the needs of hundreds of thousands of children struggling through the pandemic.

The State of Children’s Mental Health Services 2020-21 report says provision before the pandemic struck was already insufficient, access was improving but not fast enough and spending, while rising, was ‘highly variable’ and inadequate.

Figures show the overall number of nurses working in mental health in England have fallen in the past decade. There were 40,228 nurses working in mental health settings in October 2010 but this fell to 38,417 by October 2020.

‘Services remain underfunded and staff recruitment and retention unaddressed’

Mr Jones said nurses are seeing the impact of school closures and the wider pandemic on the mental health of children and young people.

‘Nursing staff in this area, the largest professional group in the mental health workforce, were already overstretched before this pandemic due to widespread staffing shortages,’ he said.

‘As this report makes clear, demand for support is increasing. Yet CYPMHS remains underfunded and staff recruitment and retention challenges remain unaddressed. The government must address these workforce challenges urgently.’

The commissioner’s report, the fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England, found an improvement in referrals and access to CYPMHS (see table).

Findings from report by children’s commissioner 2018-19 2019-20
Referrals to CYPMHS 523,197 538,564
Access to CYPMHS 377,866 391,940
Number of children who had treatment within six weeks 74,130 126,878
Number of cases closed before treatment 177,886 145,412

But it also found that local clinical commissioning groups spent less than 1% of their overall budget on children’s mental health.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said nurses were ‘instrumental’ in supporting young people’s mental health, adding: ‘ We are training a new dedicated mental health workforce to provide both them, and children in schools and colleges across the country, with greater support.’


Find out more

The State of Children’s Mental Health Services 2020-21 (Children’s Commissioner)


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