Associate Feature: Concern over mental health nursing vacancies
Our mental health services are coming under increasing pressure. With the effect of the pandemic on our collective mental wellbeing yet to be fully felt and rising nursing vacancies, loud alarm bells should be ringing at Scottish government.
Last week, Public Health Scotland published data showing that almost 15% of people are waiting longer than the Scottish government’s 18-week target for starting psychological therapy-based treatment. And almost 30% of children and young people referred to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health services are waiting longer than the 18-week target.
At the same time, mental health nursing vacancies are at unacceptably high levels. In the RCN’s recently published document Nursing Workforce in Scotland, we reported that as many as one in eight mental health nursing posts were vacant at the end of 2021 (1,377.3 WTE posts).
There is growing evidence around the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Of particular concern are the adverse effects on children and young people, those who are economically disadvantaged and indications of worsening mental health inequalities.
Any debate on the future of mental health and wellbeing services must acknowledge that no amount of service redesign or additional funding will improve services while so many mental health nursing posts remain unfilled. At around only 150 more places, the increase in mental health nursing students for 2022-23 is not going to fix the staffing crisis overnight.
The Scottish government’s own National Workforce Strategy – published in March, after a long delay - leaves significant questions unanswered. What is needed is a long-term, fully funded workforce plan for mental health services, both in primary care and acute settings.
Our members have been clear that staff shortages, record levels of vacancies and the added pressures of the pandemic are affecting patient care and their own wellbeing. An urgent, clear timetable for implementation of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act is essential.
This article is sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing.