Shortfall of mental health officers in Scottish councils rises to highest level

The shortfall in the number of mental health officers working in Scotland’s councils reached its highest level last year, according to a new report.

It found that an additional 40 full-time officers would be needed to fully address the gap in staffing levels.

Mental health officers are qualified social workers who have completed mental health training courses.

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) report found that the number of whole-time equivalent (WTE) officers increased by 2% to 670 in December 2015, but the overall shortfall is the highest since data was first collected in 2008.

The number of WTE officers had fallen from 698 in 2012 to 657 in 2014, before recovering slightly in 2015 to 670.

But the survey of local authorities also revealed that 21 councils had a shortfall in their mental health officer staffing levels – the same number as in 2014, and up from 14 councils in 2012.

The total additional hours per week required to address shortfalls has increased by around a third from 2014 to around 1,550 hours a week in 2015.

Over 40 extra full-time exclusive officers would be required across Scotland to fully address this reported shortfall, the report found.

A total of 53 officers left the workforce between December 1 2014 and December 7 2015, a reduction of 15% over the previous year.

Of these, about a quarter retired, about a quarter resigned and just under a third left for other reasons such as a career break or secondment.

Anna Fowlie (pictured), SSSC chief executive said: “Although the overall number of MHOs has gone up, this report shows the challenges facing local authorities as the data from the 21 authorities that answered the shortfall question shows the overall shortfall is at its highest since this data was first collected in 2008.

“The report also shows the number of MHOs aged 45 or more is at its highest level for three years so we need to make sure enough new trainees are coming into MHO work in future.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures show the desperate investment that mental health needs.

“We need to see more mental health officers per 100,000, not less. We need to make sure that there are more specialists, not see them reduced further.”

He added: “If the SNP are serious about challenging mental health then there needs to be a complete step-change in the way they approach it.”

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “I welcome the fact that the number of practicing mental health officers has increased since last year. It is also encouraging that we have the highest number of MHOs in in training at any time since 2008, and a reduction in the number leaving the workforce.

“It is the responsibility of local authorities to plan their MHO workforce, ensuring they have the appropriate levels of staff in place to provide services for their residents. However, the Scottish Government recognises the invaluable contribution made by this workforce to improving the lives of mental health patients and their friends and families.

“Mental health is one of the key priorities for the Scottish Government. We have invested an additional £150 million in mental health over a five year period, and later this year we will publish our plan to transform mental health services over the next decade.”

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