Mental health campaign groups have welcomed a government plan to roll back years of cuts to mental health services that have left the system with “dangerously high” bed occupancy rates, waiting times and low staff retention. But the Royal College of Nursing has warned that the government’s flagship mental health proposals “appear not to add up”.
The announcement of the government’s NHS expansion plan for mental health services puts flesh on the bones of a pledge announced by Theresa May seven months ago, when the prime minister promised to tackle the “burning injustice of mental illness”.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said 21,000 new posts would be created under the £1.3bn plan – with more trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, peer support workers and other mental health professionals. A major drive to retrain and retain mental health staff would be put into place, he said.
The plan aims to treat an extra 1 million people by 2021, provide mental health services seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and properly integrate mental and physical health services.
“As we embark on one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe it is crucial we have the right people in post – that’s why we’re supporting those already in the profession to stay and giving incentives to those considering a career in mental health,” said Hunt. “These measures are ambitious, but essential for delivering the high performing and well-resourced mental health services we all want to see.”
But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) questioned whether there was sufficient time and funding to train enough new professionals to meet the ambition of the policy.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said if the proposed nurses were to be trained in time they would have to begin within weeks.
“The government’s policies appear not to add up,” she said. “It is clear the government will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in mental health services in 2010. Under this government, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed. The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans.”
The announcement comes after a series of dire warnings from those researching and working in the mental health sector. In early July, NHS mental health trust bosses warned that services were so overwhelmed by soaring demand that patients were facing long delays to access care.
Last week, research from the Education Policy Institute thinktank revealed that children with serious mental health problems were becoming trapped in NHS psychiatric units, unable to leave because care was unavailable outside hospitals.