UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently launched a plan to expand the mental health workforce to treat an extra one million patients by 2020 to 2021. This is aiming to tackle the ‘historic imbalance’ in workforce capacity and the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness and inadequate treatment.

The government committed £1.3 billion to transform mental health services, with a pledge to provide services 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and integrate mental and physical health services for the first time. The plan has been developed by Health Education England (HEE) together with NHS Improvement, NHS England, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other key mental health experts.

By 2020 to 2021 local areas will need to create 21,000 new posts in priority growth areas to deliver the improvements in services and support set out in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:
We want people with mental health conditions to receive better treatment, and part of that means having the right NHS staff. We know we need to do much more to attract, retain and support the mental health workforce of the future. Today is the first step to address this historic imbalance in workforce planning.

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.

All major specialisms will see an expansion in numbers, with the plan targeting areas where there are forecast to be particular shortfalls as demand on services increases. It concludes that there should be:

  • 2,000 additional nurses, consultants and therapist posts created in child and adolescent mental health services
  • 2,900 additional therapists and other allied health professionals supporting expanded access to adult talking therapies
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings, with the majority of these (4,600) being nursing positions

Perinatal mental health support, liaison and diversion teams and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis should also see significant increases.

Among the groups expected to grow most in the planned expansion are:

  • professionals working in child and adolescent mental health services
  • therapists delivering expanded access to adult talking therapies
  • nurses working in crisis care settings
  • It will be funded in part by the government’s commitment to an extra £1 billion for mental health services by 2020 to 2021.

To achieve this, the measures set out in the plan include a “Return to Practice” campaign led by HEE to encourage some of the 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 trained mental health nurses not substantively employed by the NHS to return to the profession. NHS Employers will also work with providers to develop more flexible and supportive working environments and help more of them to draw on the skills of recent retirees

The plan also pledges action to improve the mental health and resilience of its own workforce; HEE will deliver a programme to improve awareness of mental health amongst NHS staff, including encouraging more GPs to undertake further formal training in psychiatry.

HEE will also explore how to support Trusts in recruiting and training staff from abroad to meet short-term recruitment needs.

Professor Ian Cumming, Chief Executive, Health Education England said:
Mental health is a key priority for HEE. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health laid out an ambition to see an additional one million people being treated by mental health services by 2021, including 70,000 more children and young people. This is something the whole system is committed to working on to make sure patients get the best possible care.

The workforce plan we have agreed with our partners across the system is based on the most comprehensive and robust study of the mental health workforce to date. We do not underestimate the scale of this challenge. To deliver the improvements we have said are required will require concerted action and focus from everyone working across the health and care system – this document lays out a plan to create that workforce.

I am confident that the NHS can rise to this challenge and that this plan is a significant step to make the improvements to care we all know are needed a reality.