BMA survey highlights the terrible impact of mental health staff shortage

A BMA survey of over 1,000 mental health care professionals has laid bare the terrible impact of a shortage of mental health staff in the face of rising demand. It has left staff at ‘breaking point’ and patients failing to get the care they need.  

The survey, in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Clinical Psychologists, reveals that over half of respondents said they were too busy to provide the care they would like to be able to give, with 44% saying that they felt demoralized and the same number saying their workload was unmanageable.

One consultant psychiatrist told the BMA:

When I started, the admissions ward was particularly understaffed with very little support from the Trust- it was basically a case of being thrown to the wolves.”

Doctors also raised concerns over the level of staffing on mental health wards with 47% saying there was a shortage of one or more medical staff, while half were concerned about the skill mix.

A consultant psychiatrist working on an acute admissions ward said:

It really has an impact on doctors if we don’t have the proper support. You could see doctors changing – you saw them become burned out and less alert.”

The doctors’ union has set out a number of recommendations including doubling mental health funding from clinical commissioning groups as it warns that many of the Government’s mental health workforce commitments are not on track to be met.

Responding to the report, BMA mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski said:

This study highlights the very serious problems facing the mental health sector with a workforce near to breaking point. There are desperate shortages of care staff of all types across mental health, with doctors and nurses on the frontline overworked and demoralized – and patient care is suffering as a result. Mental healthcare accounts for 25% of all healthcare activity and yet our funding settlement stands at around 14% of healthcare spending at best. This is not right and has to improve. There must be a step-change in the Government’s approach to ensure we move beyond just ‘parity of esteem’ for physical and mental health. The same level of resources must be made available in mental health so that the vulnerable patients who depend on these services can expect the same level of care, and the same level of outcomes as they do in physical healthcare. Anything less is morally unacceptable."

Royal College of Nursing professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble said:

Shifts are consistently one or more staff members down leaving the rest upset that they can’t provide the care patients deserve and worried that lives could be put at risk if this continues. With so many too busy to deliver care, nurses aren’t able to spend time with families, develop therapeutic relationships and implement psychosocial interventions. Unless there is urgent investment in growing the nursing workforce, the pressures will continue to grow to the point where it will no longer be possible to attract nurses to work in the NHS, and parity of esteem for physical and mental health remains a goal yet to be realized.”  

Professor Mike Wang, Chair of the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK, said:

This survey vividly illustrates the dire shortage of mental health professionals and gross underfunding of mental health services at a time of overwhelmingly increasing demand, resulting in serious compromise to the quality and adequacy of care for the public. In particular, severe and longstanding deficits in the numbers of qualified clinical psychologist posts throughout all sectors of the NHS are highlighted by the survey. The NHS is simply not training and appointing sufficient clinical psychologists."

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