Investment vital to ensure NHS plans a reality for mental health workforce

Targeted recruitment drive needed to fill 7,600 mental health nursing vacancies, says RCN’s Catherine Gamble

Targeted recruitment drive needed to fill 7,600 mental health nursing vacancies, says RCN’s Catherine Gamble

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens

Mental health, especially services for children and young people, is to be one of five key priorities included in a ten-year NHS plan due out later this year, according to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

But Mr Stevens, who discussed the priorities as part of an interview with Health Service Journal, warned that improvements could take more than five years due to lack of staff.

According to NHS Digital, there are still 7,600 vacancies across mental health nursing.

Prime minister Theresa May announced last month that the NHS in England would get an extra £20bn a year in funding by 2023, but the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned the government should raise taxes or cut spending to finance the NHS funding increase.

‘Top priority for the next five years’ 

RCN professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble, said: ‘Simon Stevens is to be congratulated for making mental health crisis care and services for children and young people his top priority for the next five years.

‘But he is absolutely right that that shortages of mental health nurses already threaten that aspiration.

‘It’s not just the fact that the number of mental health nurses in the NHS has fallen by over 4,500 since 2010 – it’s also extremely worrying that the removal of the bursary for nursing students has already caused a 40% drop in the number of mature students applying to nursing degree courses, whom evidence shows are most likely to go into mental health nursing.

‘For Stevens’ ambitions to become a reality, we will need a targeted recruitment drive to attract far more nurses to mental health.’

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said that Mr Stevens comments would be ‘music to the ears’ of members who have been struggling for years with limited means, as well as huge numbers of people across England who need help with their mental health.

‘Put things right’

‘We know half of mental health issues are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24, so it is vital we focus attention on prevention and treatment at this crucial time.’

He added: ‘Services are lacking the funding they need. We have the opportunity to put things right through the long-term NHS investment plan, which is why it is vital that mental health gets its fair share of this funding.’

The other priorities mentioned by Mr Stevens included cancer, with an intention to overhaul many aspects of screening services.

There is to be a new focus around cardiovascular disease and a renewed emphasis on children’s services.

New objectives

Health inequalities will also have new objectives and Mr Stevens highlighted the differential life expectancy of people with learning disabilities and for rough sleepers and homeless people.

Mr Stevens also gave evidence to the Public Accounts Select Committee stating that a drug to cure or slow dementia would boost healthcare spending ‘at a stroke’.

He said a scientific breakthrough to treat Alzheimer’s and similar degenerative diseases would immediately free up funds from social care that could be invested in the health service, although the prospect could be a long way off.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton warned: ‘Simon Stevens has outlined several worthwhile renewed priorities, including mental health and children’s services.

‘But patients will only benefit from reforms if the government and NHS England invest properly in the workforce. They both need to demonstrate a cash commitment to back up warm words.’

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