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Is this a good time to be working in mental health?

Tagged In:  Mental Health, Nursing

The Government's ambitious Mental Health Workforce Plan aims to create career development opportunities and improve support for health professionals, as well as delivering better service and access for patients.

When Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently launched Stepping forward to 2020/21: The mental health workforce plan for England, most of the press coverage focused on the headline-grabbing figure of 21,000 new mental health jobs

The dramatic increase in the number of trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is, of course, good news. However, the plan also contains plenty of positives for existing mental health staff. It promises they will have the space to 'innovate and work to their full scope of practice', as well as receiving practical support to develop their skills, knowledge and competence. 

As for patients, they will benefit from improved access, 24/7 services and a more joined-up approach to mental and physical health. New support roles in mental health will create more flexibility and boost capacity, relieving clinical staff of admin tasks and enabling them to spend more time with patients.

All this comes at a crucial time for mental health recruitment. The NHS loses a staggering 10,000 mental health staff each year. The problem is particularly acute in nursing. Staff turnover means there are currently fewer mental health nurses employed each year, whereas in general adult nursing more people join the profession than leave. 

Because training takes a long time, it's proposed that opportunities are explored to reskill and develop existing staff, as well as attracting qualified professionals back to the profession. Health Education England (HEE) will be leading a major 'Return to Practice' campaign, aimed at the substantial numbers of psychiatrists and mental health nurses who are currently not substantively employed by NHS England.

The plan also highlights the important role that occupational therapists can play in delivery of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. For example, they're key to the successful roll-out of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) services, which help people with mental health issues find and retain suitable work. 

HEE will raise awareness of mental health amongst NHS staff, as well as encouraging primary care doctors to enhance their mental health skills. NHS Employers will collaborate with mental health charities to help improve the mental health of NHS staff themselves. 

“The support of a great nurse, doctor, psychologist or social worker can make all the difference to people’s lives," said Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind in his response to the launch of the workforce plan. "It’s important to see a focus on the mental wellbeing of the workforce, not least because only when staff are well-supported by their employer can they do their best. Looking after staff also helps retain good people and improve the stability of the workforce in the long run."

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