A new mental health support service is not routinely available to all NHS staff, despite an official video statement from Matt Hancock suggesting it is.

In a video posted on social media website Twitter, the health and social care secretary said people “working in the NHS” could benefit from a dedicated 24-hour support service.

The NHS Practitioner Health service is designed and funded for doctors and dentists. But when questioned whether it was available to nurses, Mr Hancock replied on Twitter: “It has been designed for doctors but will also support nurses and all other staff in the NHS. I want to see specific support for all NHS staff.

“As Clare Gerada [the NHS Practitioner Health programme’s medical director] has said, everyone from a porter to senior manager has to cope with traumatic events and needs help available.”

Dr Gerada confirmed to HSJ the service is not currently commissioned to support nurses and non-clinical staff.

Although it has seen these types of staff by special arrangement, she said they must first secure separate funding from their local commissioners, which is only approved in around a third of cases.

Asked about the video and tweet, she said: “Maybe I confused him by saying that we have sometimes seen other staff. Or maybe it was a Freudian slip and he was flagging up something he’s really wanting to happen in future.

“I would really stress that Matt Hancock is unbelievably committed to improving the welfare of NHS staff, and he showed that by meeting us the other day and really listening to people who are bereaved relatives of NHS staff who lost their lives because of mental ill health.”

She said the service, which currently has a budget of around £7m to serve 180,000 doctors and dentists, would need around double of that to expand it to more than 1 million staff.

A DHSC spokesman said: “Nurses and all other NHS staff are encouraged to access mental health services local to them, but can contact NHS Practitioner Health if they feel they have nowhere to turn and the service will aim to signpost them with the most appropriate help.”

A source close to Mr Hancock added: “Matt is determined to do everything we can to support the mental health of NHS staff and is clear that this service is for everyone. There is specific support for doctors and dentists which they can access, and if other staff call the helpline then they will be directed to the appropriate support elsewhere.

“And we are actively looking at ways to make sure dedicated support is made available for everyone working in the NHS - whether they are porters, nurses, doctors or senior managers.”

Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison union, which represents nurses and non-clinical staff, said “support should also be available for all staff, not just doctors”.

The NHS Practitioner Health service was recently rolled out across England, having previously operated only in London. It is funded by NHS England and run by the Hurley Group.

HSJ Transforming Mental Health Summit

The HSJ Transforming Mental Health Summit, taking place at the Hilton Leeds from 28-29 November 2019, unites 120+ senior figures from across the NHS, local authority and wider mental health service delivery landscape to discuss how to realise the visions of the NHS long-term plan and ensure successful local implementation of national priorities.

Held under the Chatham House Rule, attendees will quiz Paul Farmer and other national figures on general policy direction and co-develop solutions to their local challenges with NHS and local government colleagues from across the country. The summit is free to attend for senior NHS and public sector figures.

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