Mental health staff morale hit by explosion in demand
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Mental health staff morale hit by explosion in demand

Staff shortages and low morale are forcing many mental health nurses out of the profession and holding back care improvements, an influential group of MPs said.

Mental Health Practice. 26, 5, 7-7. doi: 10.7748/mhp.26.5.7.s4

Published: 05 September 2023

Members of the cross-party Commons public accounts committee reported that 17,000 staff including nurses left the NHS mental health workforce in 2021-22, with 14% citing work-life balance reasons.

Although the whole mental health workforce grew by 22% between 2017 and 2022 – the figure for nursing was 9% – this was far outpaced by referrals to mental health services, which rose by 44%.

The committee warned that burnout and workload are a risk for remaining staff and a factor in high staff turnover.

Its chair, Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, said: ‘Staff deserve not just our heartfelt gratitude for the job they do, but concrete support and training to work as part of well-staffed workplaces.

‘Our report warns of a vicious cycle in which staff shortages and morale both worsen in self-reinforcing parallel.’

The MPs have given NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) six months to outline interventions to recruit mental health nurses, doctors, therapists and other clinical and non-clinical staff.


Picture credit: iStock

RCN professional lead for mental health nursing Stephen Jones said the MPs’ report highlights the unacceptable pressures staff face, forcing many to leave the profession.

‘This lack of workforce investment has led to overwhelming pressures on staff and services and put patient care at risk,’ he said.

‘The lack of appropriately skilled staff means far too often mental health roles are being carried out by those without the necessary qualifications or training. Vulnerable patients are at risk.’

He said implementation of the NHS workforce plan in England must include a commitment to bolster mental health nurse numbers and their professional development.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We remain fully committed to recruiting as well as retaining and re-skilling the mental health workforce to ensure we meet current and future needs.’

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