Dire shortage of mental health workers leaving staff demoralised and compromising care – BMA

A “dire shortage” of mental health care workers amid rising demand is leaving staff overworked and demoralised and compromising care, according to the doctors’ union.

More than half (52%) of 1,036 mental health care professionals said they were too busy to give the care they would like to, a British Medical Association (BMA) survey found.

The survey, in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Clinical Psychologists, also found 44% of respondents said they felt demoralised and that their workload was unmanageable.

Dr Andrew Molodynski (pictured), the BMA’s mental health policy lead, said: “There are desperate shortages of care staff of all types across mental health, with doctors and nurses on the frontline overworked and demoralised – and patient care is suffering as a result.

“Mental healthcare accounts for 25% of all healthcare activity and yet our funding settlement stands at around 14% of healthcare spending at best. This is not right and has to improve.

“There must be a step-change in the Government’s approach to ensure we move beyond just ‘parity of esteem’ for physical and mental health.

“The same level of resources must be made available in mental health so that the vulnerable patients who depend on these services can expect the same level of care, and the same level of outcomes as they do in physical healthcare. Anything less is morally unacceptable.”

Professor Mike Wang, chairman of the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK, said: “This survey vividly illustrates the dire shortage of mental health professionals and gross underfunding of mental health services at a time of overwhelmingly increasing demand, resulting in serious compromise to the quality and adequacy of care for the public.”

The BMA survey also found 47% of respondents said there was a shortage of one or more medical staff on mental health wards.

And half said access to training has worsened or greatly worsened since 2017.

While the number of people in touch with NHS mental health services has increased by more than a fifth since 2016, there has been little growth in the workforce in England over the last decade.

Since 2009, there has been a loss of 7,000 nurses, health visitors and midwives and 6,000 clinical support staff, the BMA said.

The BMA said key commitments set out in a 2017 workforce plan were not on track to being met, such as a pledge to have an extra 19,000 (11,000 qualified) staff working within mental health by 2020/21.

It is calling for local spending on mental health to double over the next 10 years, targeted recruitment campaigns to address workforce shortages, improved access to training and better health and wellbeing support.

Catherine Gamble, the Royal College of Nursing’s mental health lead, said: “The clear majority of nursing staff felt the absence of one of their own on their last shift which hammers home the reality of the chronic workforce shortages that have plagued our profession.”

She added: “They are consistently one or more staff members down leaving the rest upset that they can’t provide the care patients deserve and worried that lives could be put at risk if this continues.”

Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The College is calling for the number of medical school places in England to be doubled by 2029 to ensure enough doctors enter the workforce to meet future demand.

“These additional places should be allocated to medical schools with a clear plan to encourage more trainee doctors to choose specialties with shortages, such as psychiatry.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Expanding the mental health workforce is a key priority for this Government so we meet rising demand on services and ensure patients receive the best treatment.

“From September this year, we’re giving all nursing and midwifery students at least £5,000 a year and we’re taking immediate action to fill vacancies and secure the staff we need – including increasing university clinical placements by over 5,000 more and bolstering the workforce through greater international recruitment.”

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