‘Look at our track record’: 5 ways the Tories are damaging mental health services

The health secretary's '21,000 new NHS posts' promise rings empty when you look at the overall state of staffing and funding in the NHS.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced this morning the government would create 21,000 new posts in the NHS for treating mental health.

A £1.3bn investment, he said, would see thousands of new nurses, therapists and psychiatrists trained to treat an extra 1 million patients by 2021.

The Royal College of Nursing, however, rightly pointed out that Hunt’s promises “do not add up” — investment on the proposed scale appears tiny in the context of the broader staffing and funding figures.

Hunt urged listeners of R4’s Today programme this morning to “look at our track record” on the NHS, claiming that since 2010, 6,000 more nurses had joined the health service — here’s the actual situation:

  1. There are currently 40,000 unfilled nursing posts in hospitals, showing the stark gap between the minimal increase in overall staff numbers and the massive growth in demand that has occurred since 2010.
  2. There are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses working in the NHS since 2010, whilst demand has soared. A report earlier this month found 80 per cent of trusts said they were struggling to provide high-quality mental health care.
  3. Applications to study nursing are down 19 per cent this year after the Tories abolished bursaries for trainee nurses, which will lead to a major staffing crisis in the near future.
  4. Nurses are leaving the health service in record numbers: in 2016, 20 per cent more nurses and midwives in the UK left the profession than joined it.
  5. Agency fees cost the NHS £4bn last year, £1.4bn more than predicted. At the same time, the Tories are secretly privatising an in-house NHS staffing agency that saves the health service £70m a year in agency fees.

In the context of an overall investment and staffing crisis in the NHS, it seems that Hunt’s promises on mental health, even if carried out, will make a nominal impact.

To truly improve psychiatric care, investment in the NHS across the board must be boosted, the public sector pay cap lifted and bursaries and other incentives to get people into training increased – three things, as their track record shows, the Tories have failed on.

Oscar Webb is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. He tweets here.

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