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NHS Set To Withdraw Secondary Care Mental Health Support

NHS England is set to withdraw funding for secondary care staff to access mental health services provided by NHS Practitioner Health, which would health experts say that would leave workers ‘high and dry’.

NHS Practitioner Health, a free mental health and addiction service for health and care professionals, confirmed that it would no longer be able to accept secondary care staff – such as specialist doctors or nurses – for treatment.

The body said that it would continue to treat all secondary care staff who are already registered with the service and will “work through how new requests received from Monday [15 April 2024] may be managed whilst the review is completed, and any alternative service put in place”, adding that the NHS was reviewing the mental health support it offered staff across all groups to consider “long term sustainable options”.

Funding for primary care staff – such as GPs or practice nurses – to access mental health support through NHS Practitioner Health has been extended for 12 months to 31 March 2025.

Dr Latifa Patel, BMA workforce lead, said: “NHS England’s withdrawal of funding from Practitioner Health is deeply concerning. Doctors are more burnt-out and under pressure than ever before and now is not the time to cut mental health support. With the recent cutting of NHS staff and wellbeing hubs, doctors already have fewer and fewer places to turn to. This is a short-sighted financial decision with potentially harmful consequences for both doctors and their patients.

“NHSE’s commitment at the weekend to ‘ensuring all NHS staff receive the mental health support they need’ is welcome but insufficient. We need to have assurances that its review of services will lead to equal or better provision of mental health support in the future. More urgently we call for a pause in the decision to end funding so doctors are not left without support while the review is carried out.”

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘The news that secondary care staff will no longer be able to register for this mental health and addiction service is deeply concerning, and we urge that the decision be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. The latest NHS staff survey showed that large parts of the workforce are feeling undervalued, stretched and burnt out, and there is still work to do to make health and care a more attractive career. Two in five staff report feeling unwell due to work-related stress.

‘Our joint research with the RCN Foundation into the experiences of newly qualified nurses and midwives also illustrated the need for a stronger focus on developing cultures where staff can flourish, including through compassionate, inclusive and collective leadership. Staff well-being also directly impacts the quality-of-care patients receive.

‘These essential mental health support services help address burnout and ensure that staff get the help they need and will reduce the number of staff taking sick leave. That’s why, with other health and care organisations, we wrote to the government just last month about the importance of ringfencing funding for staff wellbeing hubs.

‘Separately, we look forward to hearing more details on the scope and timing of the review announced by NHS England into wider staff mental health support and welcome the extension of funding for support for primary care doctors.’

An NHS spokesperson said: “Staff wellbeing is a really important part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and we know we need to do more to support our workforce.

“Practitioner Health will remain available for all primary care staff, and it will continue to support all existing patients – discussions are ongoing with the provider about future contracts.

“Any other NHS staff will be signposted to alternative sources of support, including their GP, occupational health departments, which are available in all Trusts as well as employee assistance programmes.”

Investment in NHS mental health hubs for staff, social workers and social care staff has also been cut, with many having closed.

 

 
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