Statistics published by NHS Digital on Thursday (27 September) are evidence of a service under severe strain, says the Mental Health Network.
Workforce statistics show 35,674 registered nurses working in mental health NHS trusts in England in June 2018, which is a drop of more than 12 per cent on the 40,602 employed less than a decade ago in September 2009.
At the end of the first quarter of 2018/19, the latest period for which NHS Improvement figures are available, there were 8,448 registered nurse vacancies in mental health NHS trusts. More than a fifth (20.6 per cent) of all nursing vacancies are in mental health.
And this comes at a time when the workforce ought to be expanding. There has been a six-fold increase in children and young people reporting having a long standing mental health condition over the last 20 years.
Health Education England’s workforce strategy Stepping Forward said 19,000 additional roles from March 2017 were needed by 2020/21 to implement the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
Earlier this month, the government revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question that just 917 have been added.
'Time for a sound workforce strategy'
The Mental Health Network acknowledges NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens prioritising mental health in the service’s long-term plan.
But it calls for any investment in the sector to be underpinned by a sound, costed, multi-disciplinary workforce strategy and support from the government to make it work.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “It is fantastic to see mental health having an increased profile – we need to ride the wave of this positive conversation and turn it into meaningful action.
“We have got a real challenge ahead of us and we have to take a broad approach to find solutions. Better mental health care can only be delivered with the right number of staff with the right skills. We need to enable mental health providers to attract and retain the right colleagues to help put the nation’s mental health on the right track for the long haul.
“As part of that we must make the most of the opportunities to employ people with lived experience, such as peer support workers.
“Part of the solution will also need to be about working with the voluntary and charitable sectors and making effective use of the increasing number of digital mental health tools.
“Psychology graduates must be welcomed into our ranks with suitable roles identified and define and rolled out on a national scale.”
“The sector also needs to fully implement the recommendations from Thriving at Work, which will help employers support the mental wellbeing of their staff, to keep their workforce happy and healthy and reduce attrition rates.”