There has been a shortage of mental health services in the UK for as long as many of us have followed the news. We've all heard the horror stories of long waiting lists for treatment and patients being sent hundreds of miles away for crucial care. Stories like these persist despite countless calls from politicians for mental health to be treated on a par with physical health.
Today, the government announced a plan to redress this "historic imbalance", with health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledging to recruit more mental health workers to work for the NHS in England, the BBC reported.
Hunt said enough nurses, therapists and consultants will be employed to treat an additional one million patients by 2020-21 (around 21,000 new posts), with much of the focus going towards (notoriously underfunded) child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), which will get 2,000 more nurses. There will also be 2,900 extra therapists providing talking therapies for adults, such as CBT, and 4,800 additional nurses working in crisis care.
Greater mental health support will also be available for women around the time they give birth; more staff will be available to treat people at risk of psychosis; and mental health staff will reportedly receive better training to address the high dropout rate among trainee professionals.
This all sounds like great news and the plans have indeed been welcomed by many mental health charities. However many critics, including professionals in the sector, have already highlighted a number of problems with the plans. For one, there won't be any new money to cover the costs – the scheme will be funded by the extra £1bn already announced for mental health services.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the timeframe "[appears] not to add up", because the nurses would need to begin training next month to be ready in time, and that "hard cash" would be needed to deliver any plans.
Others have also pointed out that there are already thousands of unfilled nursing posts, as recent data highlighted, with about a fifth of job vacancies unfilled in parts of London. Staggeringly, by November last year there were 15% fewer NHS mental health nurses in England – a drop of about a sixth (6,610 nurses) – than there were in 2012 when the Tories came to power.
Paul Farmer, the chief executive of mental health charity Mind, welcomed the proposals but warned that "a damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning" is what got mental health services into this mess in the first place, the Guardian reported.
He said: “Cuts to mental health services in recent years have led directly to posts being axed and have taken their toll on morale, which has led to valued staff leaving mental health in frustration or burn-out. The scale of the challenge is clear, so we welcome the measures announced in this plan to attract people back to mental health and keep hold of them."
So while the government's proposal is a functional step and sends a positive message, it must arguably be welcomed with caution.