The National Health Service in England is planning to create a system of primary care for mental health that is on par with the physical health care system. This action plan began in 2008 – with the then government investing GBP30 million. It aims to address the ever-increasing needs for improved mental health, which are now more prominent with the rising global attention of mental health over the years.

In the UK itself, 800,000 suicide cases are recorded every year. Prominent figures like Prince Harry and Duke of Cambridge have also been speaking out for a change in the dialogue of mental health.

NHS prepares to treat an extra one million patients a year

Back then, 35 clinics covering only one fifth of England, were established. Today, the government has added a GBP1.3 billion injection to create another 21,000 posts to treat an extra one million patients a year.

Of this, 2,900 will be therapists that will help with adult talking services such as cognitive behavioural therapy, 4,800 extra nurses and therapists in crisis care settings, and 2,000 therapists for children and adolescent services. Recent figures show that the programme currently scans one million people a year. Also, the number of adults who have received mental health treatment has increased from one in four to one in three.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has also promised 24-hour, integrated psychiatric services for the first time – to redress the “historic imbalance” between physical and mental health by 2021.

Apart from launching a campaign to persuade more trainee doctors to specialise in mental health – the programme also aims to bring back the 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 trained mental health nurses no longer practising, as well as encouraging GPs to become trained psychiatrists.

“As we embark on one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe, it is crucial that we have the right people in post. That is why we’re supporting those already in the profession to stay, and giving incentives to those considering a career in mental health,” asserted Hunt.

Critics say NHS is not ready

Many are sceptical, given that the government recently abolished bursaries for student nurses. Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nurses, opines that the new policy somehow doesn’t appear to add up. “If these nurses were going to be ready in time, they would be starting training next month… But we have seen that the withdrawal of the bursary has led to a sharp fall in university applications and we are yet to see funding for additional places,” she added.

Figures indicated that in April 2017, there were 35,563 mental health nurses – as compared to 40,744; recorded in April 2010. The 4,800 they hope to bring to the crisis sector will only bring the number back up to what it was in 2010.

As a result, almost 6,000 mental health patients were sent out of their local area for treatment in 2016 – a 40% rise in two years.

Additionally, the Care Quality Commission recently criticised what it called a “Victorian” approach to mental health – revealing that 3,500 patients are being locked up in secure wards when they should be receiving treatment.

According to the British Medical Association (BMA), there are fewer junior doctors opting for psychiatry. The number has also fallen by more than 20% within the last year alone. Brexit could further lower levels of staff as it may become harder to recruit doctors and nurses from abroad; and EU nationals may chose not to stay in the UK.

Barbara Keeley, the Labour party’s shadow mental health minister, remarked, “The workforce plan provides no real answers on how these new posts will be funded or how recruitment issues will be overcome. And it offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale.” MIMS

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