• Government pledges 21,000 new mental health posts by 2020-21
  • Health secretary Jeremy Hunt launches the long-awaited mental health workforce strategy
  • The strategy promises 21,000 new posts, including thousands of more psychiatrists and mental health nurses

The government today announced it would create 21,000 new posts in the mental health sector by 2020-21, building on its previous commitments.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is launching a long-awaited workforce strategy for implementation of the Mental Health Five Year Forward View.

Published this morning, the strategy sets out plans to create 21,000 new posts across all major specialities sector, including:

  • 2,000 additional nurse, consultant and therapist posts in child and adolescent mental health services;
  • 2,900 additional therapists and other allied health professionals in adult talking therapies;
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings, with 4,600 of these being nursing positions; and
  • Perinatal mental health support, liaison and diversion teams and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis should also see significant increases.

The new strategy more than doubles the 10,000 new staff pledged by prime minister Theresa May in her first major policy announcement of the general election campaign back in May.

NHS England national mental health director Claire Murdoch told HSJ last month the sector needed more than the 10,000 because of the 20,000 existing vacancies. Many of these are filled by bank and agency staff

HSJ understands that the new plan is expected to increase the total mental health workforce by more than 10,000 registered clinical professionals (by headcount), and 19,000 when clinical support and admin staff are included.

Mr Hunt said as well as creating new posts, the NHS has to do more to attract, retain and support staff.

He added: “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.”

The strategy has been produced by the Department of Health and Health Education England with NHS England, NHS Improvement, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other organisations.

It follows NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental implementation plan which was published in July last year and pledged nearly £4bn extra for the sector by 2020-21. The new staff will be funded using part of this increased funding.

It set HEE the task of developing a workforce strategy by the end of last December, but the plan has been set back by seven months.

The strategy also includes plans to:

  • Improve the retention of staff beginning with “targeted support” for 20 trusts with the highest rates of clinical leavers;
  • A major “return to practice” campaign to encourage psychiatrists and mental health nurses not substantively employed by the NHS to return to the service;
  • Encouraging more junior doctors to experience psychiatry as part of their foundation training – either through a new two-week taster programme, or through increased availability of rotation placements in psychiatry; and
  • Developing and expanding new professional roles in mental health to help create more flexible teams and boost capacity.

Ms Murdoch said: “This is not just about increased numbers: it’s about having a motivated and skilled workforce in place to deliver the work we need to do.”

HEE chief executive Ian Cumming added: “We do not underestimate the scale of this challenge. To deliver the improvements we have said are required will require concerted action and focus from everyone working across the health and care system – this document lays out a plan to create that workforce.”

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