Mental health campaigners have offered cautious support to a government plan intended to improve mental health services.
Cuts to services have let to what has been described as “dangerously high” bed occupancy rates and waiting times.
Meanwhile, there have also been major problems in the sector with staff retention.
And the Royal College of Nursing has been critical of government proposals, asserting that they appeared “not to add up”.
But the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to create over 20,000 new posts at a cost of around £1.3 billion.
This will result in more trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, peer support workers and other mental health professionals, while efforts to retrain and retain mental health staff will also be significantly increased.
“As we embark on one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe it is crucial we have the right people in post – that’s why we’re supporting those already in the profession to stay and giving incentives to those considering a career in mental health. These measures are ambitious, but essential for delivering the high performing and well-resourced mental health services we all want to see,” Hunt commented.
However, the Royal College of Nursing doubts whether there is sufficient time and funding in order to train enough new healthcare professionals.
Janet Davies, the RCN’s chief executive, believes that training must begin within the next few weeks if the nurses proposed by the Health Secretary are to be delivered adequately.
“The government’s policies appear not to add up. It is clear the government will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in mental health services in 2010. Under this government, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed. The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans.”
Hunt also indicated his intention to recruit 2,000 further members of staff to work with children and young people suffering with mental health problems.
While the Health Secretary also announced plans to increase the number of nurses working within the NHS.
“But we are expanding the nursing workforce: we have nearly 6,000 more nurses on the front line than we had in 2010. We want to expand it further. One of the reasons we have been able to expand the workforce to date is because, with a limited budget and a very difficult economic situation, we have shown pay discipline.”
But the chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer, despite welcoming the plan, suggested that the quality of mental health services being delivered has consistently declined over recent years.
“A damaging lack of foresight in workforce planning in the past has led us to where we are now, with a significant gulf between what’s in place and what’s needed to deliver good quality care. Cuts to mental health services in recent years have led directly to posts being axed and have taken their toll on morale, which has led to valued staff leaving mental health in frustration or burn-out.”