Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to expand mental health provisions with a £1.3bn funds injection that will enable thousands of new posts to be created.
Claiming the Government is embarking on the “biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe”, the Department of Health said the new fund would properly integrate mental and physical health services for the first time.
However, the Royal College of Nursing raised some concerns, questioning whether enough people could be trained in time to deliver the services, mentioning the Government’s abolishment of bursaries for student nurses.
The number of trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, peer support workers and other mental health professionals will be “dramatically” increased, with 21,000 new posts being created.
The move will see 2,000 additional nurses, consultants and therapist posts created in child and adolescent mental health services, and 2,900 additional therapists will assist adult talking services, with 4,800 extra nurses and therapists in crisis care settings.
Mr Hunt said: “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.
“These measures are ambitious, but essential for delivering the high performing and well-resourced mental health services we all want to see.”
Janet Davies, the chief executive of RCN, claimed Mr Hunt’s new policy appeared “not to add up”, adding: “If these nurses were going to be ready in time, they would be starting training next month. But we have seen that the withdrawal of the bursary has led to a sharp fall in university applications and we are yet to see funding for additional places.
“There is already a dangerous lack of workforce planning and accountability and this report is unable to provide detail on how the ambitions will be met.”
“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.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, while welcoming the proposal, added: “A damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning in the past has led us to where we are now, with a significant gulf between what’s in place and what’s needed to deliver good quality care.
Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow mental health minister, said: “Once again this Tory Government is promising only jam tomorrow, when what is needed is action today to tackle the staffing crisis in mental health.
“The workforce plan provides no real answers on how these new posts will be funded or how recruitment issues will be overcome. And it offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale.
“Time and again the Tories have been warned that severe staffing shortages are affecting patient care. Only this month the Care Quality Commission highlighted staffing levels, in particular the cuts to mental health nurses, as a contributing factor to 40 per cent of mental health services now failing on safety grounds.”
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