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The rundown: How HEE plans to put their mental health targets into action


By Carolyn Wickware
3 August 2017

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Healthcare Leader reported this week that the Government aims to put 21,000 more mental health staff in the workforce to a cost of £1.3bn.

Much has been made of the targets; broken down by job, care quality goal and recruitment initiative.

Healthcare Leader reported this week that the Government aims to put 21,000 more mental health staff in the workforce to a cost of £1.3bn.

Much has been made of the targets; broken down by job, care quality goal and recruitment initiative.

But as the Health Education England report, released alongside the Government’s announcement on Monday, said: ‘No single part of the system holds all the levers necessary to implement this workforce plan.’

So how will HEE and the rest of the health service and other Government bodies go about hitting these targets? 

1) The target: Add 21,000 members of staff to the mental health workforce by 2020/21

The plan: Cast a wider net for recruits, while enticing staff to return and retaining them

Bring qualified staff back and keep them

According to HEE, the NHS loses 10,000 mental health workers every year, which among other things amounts to poor quality of care.

Therefore, NHS Improvement is putting in place a national retention programme, which will offer ‘retention master classes’ for directors of nursing and HR directors. With the help of NHS Employers, the programme will target trusts with the highest leaving rates and expects to provide an increase of 6,000 full time workers.

In addition to this, the Department of Health has said it will explore the conclusions from the Naylor Review and its potential to improve access to NHS accommodation.

However, the report notes that 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 mental health nurses now work outside the NHS.

To bring them back into the health service, HEE is launching a ‘return to practice’ campaign with NHS Improvement, NHS Employers, RCPsych and mental health charities to support local employers to entice psychiatrists and mental health nurses to return.

Accept a wider variety of medical students

HEE is working with the Medical Schools Council to change medical school entry requirements so that psychology A-level is considered of equal merit to pure sciences, to potentially increase the number of applicants likely to go on to become psychiatrists.

Fill gaps in the short-term with international GPs

But as it takes several years to train a consultant psychiatrist, RCPsych and HEE plan to fill key roles with doctors from overseas.

2) The target: Make services accessible at the right time

The plan: Release more time for consultant psychiatrists

HEE is planning to work with NHS England, NHS Improvement, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NHS Employers to develop ways of freeing consultant psychiatrists from administrative work so they have more time to spend with patients who have a mental illness. According to the report, this will involve using physicians associates, pharmacists and even personal assistants to take on certain tasks.

3) The target: Deliver services in a more integrated way

The plan: Create new roles that can work with integrated teams on a regional level

Build teams that can work in many different settings

HEE plans to continue in its efforts to create new, more flexible roles such as advanced practitioners, nursing associates, consultant allied health professionals and consultant nurses, peer support workers, physician associates and clinical academics.

However, HEE will work with partners to consider new roles like early intervention workers who focus on child wellbeing and more non-clinical roles that allow consultants to make the best use of their time.

Align the mental health workforce plans with regional STP plans

HEE has outlined an expectation that each STP appoint a senior person to lead the development and delivery of a mental health plan and a workforce plan that is carefully thought out with ‘risk identified and managed’.

HEE also adds that STPs should outline how they plan to reskill the existing workforce to help transform services.

4) The target: Embedding mental health services into the NHS

The plan: Build a better understanding of the mental health workforce and how mental illness effects them

Promote mental health from within the NHS

HEE recognises that in order to improve other people’s mental health, the NHS needs to be ‘an exemplar in creating a mentally healthy workplace’. To do this HEE is working with Time to Change, a campaign launched by mental health charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, to make it easier for NHS staff to ask for help regarding mental health. 

NHS Employers will work with NHS Improvement to better understand sickness rates in particular and work with mental health charities to improve the mental health of our own workforce.

Understanding of who is in the mental health workforce

According to HEE, NHS Digital only provides workforce data from NHS organisations, which makes it difficult to create a full picture of how many mental health staff are employed, and where, across the entire system, including in social care, private and third sectors.

HEE has said they will work with NHS Digital and other arms length bodies to ensure workforce data from non-NHS sectors is available as soon as possible to help with more effective workforce planning.

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