• Sustainability and transformation partnerships told to draw up mental health workforce plans
  • Each STP to appoint a senior leader to deliver the plans
  • Mental health workforce strategy says there will be 21,000 new posts, which local organisations will need to deliver
  • Strategy acknowledges that, even after the new posts, there will be 17,000 vacancies by 2020-21

Every sustainability and transformation partnership will have to draw up mental health workforce plans and appoint a senior leader to deliver them. 

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt today launched a workforce strategy for implementation of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

The strategy sets out a series of recommendations for each STP in order to create, fund and fill 21,000 new posts nationally by April 2021.

The strategy recommends each STP appoint a chief executive or executive director to lead the development and delivery of a mental health workforce strategy.

It says this role must ensure “ongoing alignment between funding, policy commitments and workforce availability and actions”.

The report added: “By April 2021, employers are expected to create, fund and fill 21,000 new posts in the priority growth areas, but this must not be at the expense of the wider service that those who access mental health services rely on, nor in isolation of ongoing efforts to improve quality and achieve financial balance.

“This document sets out the high level road map for regions, STPs and local areas from which to build their regional workforce plans to 2021 that reflect local needs and strengths.”

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.

While HEE’s local workforce action boards will lead on the staffing elements of the new plans, STPs are also expected to include workforce plans are part of their finance and service submissions.

The new strategy more than doubles the pledge of 10,000 new staff previously made by prime minister Theresa May, but it also admits the new posts will not eliminate the 20,000 existing vacancies in the sector.

It says: “It is clear from section one that simply increasing the number of funded posts by 21,000 in the growth areas will not deliver the improvements which those who access mental health services need. Unless we have enough skilled staff to fill the newly created posts and are able to retain them, we will fail.

“It is also clear that the sheer scale of growth – in some cases doubling or trebling the workforce – cannot be met via the traditional training routes within this timescale.

“We will need to seriously invest in the development and reskilling of our existing staff, and/or recruit from the global market.”

The report forecasts that by 2020-21 the total number of mental health staff will rise from 194,000 to 213,000 while the number of vacancies will drop from 20,000 to 17,000.

It sets out plans to expand the workforce across the sector as well as reduce attrition rates, and create new positions, including:

  • 21,000 new posts including 700 medical and 8,100 nursing.
  • Reducing clinical attrition rates to retain 6,000 of the 21,000 staff expected to leave during this period.
  • Replacing the 18,000 non-clinical staff expected to leave during this period.
  • Creating 5,000 new roles such as nurse and physician associates and crisis telephone triage staff.
  • Transferring 5,000 posts from areas expecting to see reduced demand through better service integration into areas with high demand.

The document also says that a longer-term mental health strategy will be drawn up reaching beyond the end of the 2021 forward view.

A note on numbers

Various numbers have been thrown around in relation to today’s announcement and workforce strategy. Perhaps the most important is 19,000 - which is the forecast net increase in (headcount) staff in the mental health sector by 2021.

This figure arises, necessarily, from a complex set of calculations - including a fair few assumptions - by Health Education England.

In the mix are the 21,000 additional posts over the period, which has been highlighted by government. As are an estimated 20,000 existing vacancies in the sector, and plans to retain 6,000 of a likely counterfactual 21,000 clinical leavers. Add to that creating 5,000 new roles, and a forecast transferring of 5,000 roles from low demand to high demand areas (some of which will be transferred from current vacancies).

Underpinning this are plans to improve retention, create new non-clinical (/non-registered) as well as clinical roles, and reduce the posts in areas where demand is expected to fall thanks to service integration and transformation.

STPs told to lead push for more mental health staff