What is Critical for Theresa May’s Ten Year Plan on the NHS

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By Danny Bowman, Director of Mental Health

On Sunday our Prime Minister Theresa May and Health Secretary Matt Hancock will take to the television studios to announce what some are calling a substantial plan to support under-18s who suffer from mental health problems. The burning injustice that Theresa May echoed across downing street in 2016 will now reach substance, but it’s important to stress that the government must provide long-term progress and not sticky plasters on an increasingly worsening mental health crisis among young people.

The social and economic hardships faced by mental illness is vast and many individuals and families across the country will be hoping tomorrow signals a 10-year approach that will see an end to the injustices they face.

The problem of staffing

There are a range of issues that are preventing young people with mental health problems from accessing good quality care, but none more than the inadequate staffing shortages in mental health services across the United Kingdom.

The last health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP outlined a plan to expand staffing in mental health services, recruiting 21,000 more staff by 2020 to fill the shortages. Although, in recent months figures have shown that the number of extra staff has only risen by 1,524 as of August 2017 (the latest figures available). This means that by 2020 the target will have been missed by a staggering 14,904.

The abolition of the nursing bursary

This doesn’t consider the other issues around training the correct number of people to the appropriate levels to work in mental health care. Since the abolition of the bursaries for university students training to be mental health nurses we have seen a dramatic slump in people applying. The number of mental health nursing students has dropped by 13% among applicants aged 21 to 25 years of age and by 6% in those over 26 since the nursing bursary was removed.

Nursing the effects of leaving the EU

The effects of leaving the European union on staffing levels in mental health and nursing in general must be considered. The Nursing and Midwifery Council have confirmed that 3,962 EU nurses and midwifes have left the register. In addition, the number of EU nurses and midwives joining the register has dropped by 87 per cent.

It may not be specifically mental health care that is facing the backlash of the EU vote, but it will have some effect on the number of trained mental health personnel working on the frontline of the NHS and without bringing in new staff through our universities it seems the promise of better support for under-18s experiencing mental health problems may simply be that.

Training Minds to Save Minds

Last year Parliament Street released a policy report outlining a structured to plan to help produce more university trained mental health professionals to fill in the gaping holes in the mental health system and young people’s services.

‘This policy aims to train 15,000 more NHS mental health nurses over a 9-year period by subsidising the university fees of 5000 individuals each year. Furthermore, those in receipt of this subsidy will have to work in the NHS for a minimum of five years. The salaries of individuals who take up this subsidy will be capped at £30,000 a year for five years which is high enough to entice individuals, but low enough to create savings. Newly qualified nurses start at a Band 5, but the proposed amount that the salary would be capped at does not prevent them gaining promotion to a high Band 6 or a low Band 7.

  • This policy will allow more trained staff to help individuals who suffer from mental health disorders. The policy aims to reduce the overwhelming cost of poor mental health on society which currently stands at £105.2 billion (Centre for Mental Health, 2010). Furthermore, alongside reducing costs, this policy will aim to help more individuals get the support and help they need due to more qualified staff being provided, helping the individuals accessing services to live healthier lives.
  • This short-term investment could lead, not only to substantial savings in public expenditure, but produce good quality, timely treatment for our citizens who suffer from mental health problems. It will create more opportunities for individuals to get a subsidised university education and a career in the NHS’

We believe without a structured approach to training the next generation of mental health professionals we cannot achieve the changes we want in mental health.

See full report here: http://parliamentstreet.org/research/2018/training-minds-save-minds/

Conclusion

There are numerous issues stopping young people with mental health problems from accessing the care they need to go onto live happy and rewarding lives. It must be acknowledged that staffing levels play a major role in improving the situation for so many young mental health sufferers across the UK. Without a well-trained and appropriately staffed workforce in mental health all the promises made will simply just be warm words lacking action.

We face a multitude of difficulties when it comes to staffing including missed growth targets, falling numbers of young people training to be mental health professionals and the concerning implications on staffing post leaving the EU. All these concerns are legitimate, and it seems almost obvious to myself and many mental health campaigners and professionals that without the reinstatement of something resembling the nursing bursary mental health care for young people could suffer.

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