Leading voices across the mental health sector gave last week’s ‘back to work’ Budget a ‘requires improvement’ rating, highlighting how government failure to address fundamental capacity and workforce issues risks undermining the new support announced by the chancellor.
Among the various ‘shifting the dial’ support initiatives announced in the Budget were an expansion of the existing individual placement and support (IPS) scheme – which supports people with severe mental health difficulties into employment.
Also announced were access to digital resources, a ‘WorkWell’ pilot scheme to combine employment and health support, support for individuals returning to and remaining in work, and new consultations on widening access to occupational schemes offered by employers, all forming part of a £400m package for those unable to work due to mental health problems, but what impact will they have?
One of the first groups to react to the Budget statement was the Royal College of Psychiatrists whose president, Dr Adrian James, said, “Unfortunately, these interventions will have a limited impact if people cannot get the mental health support they need when they need it. Last year, mental health referrals reached record levels of 4.6 million [but] there are just simply not enough psychiatrists to deal with this surge in demand. If the government is serious about improving productivity, it needs to publish the workforce plan – backed by adequate investment – as a matter of urgency.”
James’ stance is amply backed up by recent NHS workforce statistics also showing a shortage of mental health nurses, with more than 1000 fewer employed in hospitals, community and mental health services in England than there were in 2010. And that’s hardly ‘stop the press’ news – almost a year ago a review by Health Education England identified about 11,300 nursing vacancies at mental health trusts in England, leading review chair Baroness Watkins of Tavistock to warn that, if steps were not taken immediately, “There is a risk that this profession will be lost.”
Full article in The Lowdown, 22 March 2023