Call to make the mental health workforce fit for the future as pressure on services rises

A “radical reform” of mental health services is needed to develop a workforce to meet people’s needs in the future, according to a new report by the Centre for Mental Health on behalf of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation.

The report, The future of the mental health workforce, was commissioned by NHS Employers and supported by Health Education England. It is based on insights from service users, carers and professionals and outlines a list of recommendations for a sustainable mental health workforce. It emphasises the importance of prevention, including the role of GPs in supporting people before they reach crisis point.

The report describes commissioning of mental health services as in “crisis” with a “shrinking workforce, growing expectations and exhausting demands” putting pressure on staff across the country.

The report notes that a third of GP consultations involve mental health but fewer than half of GPs have mental health training placements.

The future of the mental health workforce makes recommendations including ensuring that all GPs should have significant and wide-ranging mental health training, and that mental health professionals should be given the time and training to consult with GPs and other public service staff to help them to respond to more people’s mental health needs. It looks at what the mental health workforce should look like in the medium to long term, beyond the next five to 10 years.

Other recommendations include:

  • Professional bodies should join together to develop a range of clear career pathways for mental health professionals and offer greater flexibility for people wanting to move between professions and roles during their careers.
  • Mental health services should reach out to schools and colleges to promote careers in mental health to young people.
  • Mental health service providers should support the wellbeing of their own workforce.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

“Mental health care relies on people with the right skills, capabilities and knowledge to support others, often at times of crisis or vulnerability. It is all about people helping people, and having the right workforce is crucial for its effectiveness.

“Our consultations with people who use and people who work in mental health services have indicated a thirst for change and adaptation. The future mental health workforce will need to be skilled in coproducing services with those who use them; in educating and supporting GPs, teachers and hospital staff; and in engaging with communities. We need to attract young people to mental health work from school age and create lively, varied and challenging careers that change as people get older. And we must create compassionate organisations that support the wellbeing of those who work in them.”