Fresh government attempts to pour money into mental health services ‘do not appear to add up’ according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Health Education England’s (HEE) new expansion plan earmarks £1.3 billion to generate 21,000 new posts for mental health professionals, including nurses, as well as aiming to treat an additional 1 million people in the next four years.
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Despite its ambitious aims to provide 24-hour, seven-day mental health services, and fully integrate them with physical health care, the RCN were reluctant to wholeheartedly welcome the fresh proposals.
According to RCN chief executive Janet Davies, the new nurses Mr Hunt hopes will bolster the service would need to be ready to start training by next month in order to have the desired effect. ‘It is welcome that the government is setting this laudable ambition and investment in the mental health workforce is always welcome,’ she said.
‘However, the government’s policies appear not to add up. 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.
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‘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. We welcome the development of new supporting roles but their responsibilities must be clearly defined to avoid down-banding or substitution.
‘There must also be recognition of the excellent support roles already in place. For as long as parity of esteem between physical and mental health services remains rhetoric, this picture will not improve. The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans.’
Mental health charity Mind welcomed the plan as essential, following a ‘damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning’ for the Conservative government. They called for all GPs and practice nurses to receive structured mental health training that is ‘comprehensive, relevant and supports their ongoing development’.
‘Mental health services staff do a hugely important job and can make a real difference to the experiences of people accessing mental health services,’ said Mind chief executive Paul Farmer.
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‘It’s important to see a focus on the mental wellbeing of the workforce, not least because only when staff are well-supported by their employer can they do their best.’
Mr Hunt described the plans as ‘one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe’ and said his plan would bring in an extra 2,000 staff for children and young people’s mental health care as well as 4,600 mental health nurses in crisis care settings.