Figures from the NHS’ health and social care information centre indicate that the number of specialist mental health nurses in the UK has plummeted by more than 10% in just five years.
This recession of mental health staff is particularly serious considering the fact that it has occurred mainly in hospitals and mental health units treating some of the sickest patients.
And this fact has been confirmed by official NHS data.
The number of qualified nurses working in psychiatry slid from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015.
Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, expressed concern about the figures and the treatment of mental health in the NHS.
“These shocking figures raise serious concerns about the future of our mental health services. At a time when there is growing demand and staff are being asked to do more for less, cuts to the number of nurses working in mental health are completely unacceptable.”
And diminishing number of qualified mental health employees comes at the worst possible time.
Official figures indicate that the number of people in contact with NHS mental health services increased by more than 40% over the same period.
It seems certain that the economic climate in the UK is massively contributing to this, and thus critics of the Conservative government are provided with a double-pronged weapon to attack it.
At a time when the funding of the NHS is clearly a major issue, there must now be a question mark over the ability of the NHS to meet mental health demands in both the present and future.
Needless to say, the Royal College of Nursing expressed extreme concern about the situation.
“There are serious questions about how mental health services can be delivered when the number of mental health nurses is still declining,” said Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing. “These nurses are the quiet heroes of mental health services, helping people in crisis and keeping people as well as possible.”
It is not only in mental health where staffing issues are apparent. Recent data has indicated that doctors are rapidly dropping out of the NHS, while shortages of nurses have also been reported in recent weeks.
The arguments over junior doctors’ contracts and nurses’ bursaries are expected to create further fallout as well.
Nurses’ bursaries are being abolished as part of the Department of Health’s (DH) plan to boost NHS England’s budget by £8bn by 2020-21.
Increasingly, it looks as if the government will have to rethink many of its existing policies, or face the consequences.