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Government and politics, Mental health, Work and occupational

BPS and ACP-UK warn government over ‘clinically dangerous’ indecision over funding for mental health support for NHS and social care staff

The BPS and ACP-UK are together calling for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to commit to a minimum of one year’s transitional ring-fenced funding for the hubs.

21 February 2023

The British Psychological Society (BPS) and Association of Clinical Psychologists UK (ACP-UK) are warning that the government’s inaction over funding for 40 NHS staff mental health and wellbeing support hubs in England risks placing vulnerable NHS and social care staff in psychological danger.

The BPS and ACP-UK have seen data from 11 hubs showing an average 72 per cent year on year* increase in referrals from NHS and social care staff seeking help for their own mental health. However, government funding is due to end in March, plunging the much-needed hubs into a funding limbo. 

Launched by NHS England in February 2021, the 40 staff mental health and wellbeing hubs provide health and social care colleagues with free, confidential and rapid access to assessment and support from dedicated local mental health services.

The hubs provide vital early help for staff struggling with their mental health, in many cases giving them the help they need to continue their important work for patients, and remain in their jobs.

The data shows the 11 hubs have 2,812 open cases as of 3 February 2023**, providing vital support to individuals, and further support for thousands of teams which may have to come to an abrupt end.

The UK’s leading membership bodies for psychologists are warning of the clinical dangers of ending support for current staff when their treatment is incomplete, raising serious ethical questions for the hubs’ practitioners, particularly when their care cannot be transferred to other suitable services due to long waiting lists and staff shortages.

The BPS and ACP-UK are also highlighting the ongoing need to deliver dedicated and cost-effective psychological support for a workforce under unprecedented strain, against the backdrop of a staff recruitment and retention crisis which is leading to patients not getting the care and services they need and deserve.

Hub teams are desperately trying to identify alternative funding arrangements to secure the services’ future. Some hubs have been forced to wind up their services, with staff potentially facing redundancy or redeployment. One hub has already served redundancy notices to staff.

The BPS and ACP-UK are together calling for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to commit to a minimum of one year’s transitional ring-fenced funding to safeguard the vital support provided by the hubs for NHS and social care staff, which is proven to be a lifeline to thousands.

Professor Tony Lavender, workforce and training lead for the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, said:

“For patients and clients to receive the level of care they need and deserve, we must look after the professionals providing that care. Staff need help now more than ever.

"Removing mental health support provided by the hubs at short notice, particularly for those currently in treatment, is at best irresponsible, and at worst clinically dangerous.

"The figures also indicate that removing this support now will leave a vast amount of unmet need within a workforce that cannot afford to be diminished further still.

“The nature of trauma means that mental health problems caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic are only just starting to come to the surface for some staff, so it is vital that the hubs remain in place to give them the help they need, when they need it, as well as support with other issues.

“Without the support the hubs provide, staff will have to join lengthy waiting lists for the already overstretched mental health services, and need to take sickness absence.

"Some may not seek help at all. Through no fault of their own, this pressure cooker situation will have significant implications for patient and client care, which is far from why professionals enter the health and social care professions.”

Professor Mike Wang, clinical psychologist and chair of the board of directors at the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK, said:

“These have been unprecedented times, and the hubs have evolved to meet the challenges NHS and social care staff are presenting with, from not only the damage caused by the pandemic and working within a struggling system, but issues like the cost of living crisis that impact us all.

"At a time when the NHS and social care organisations are haemorrhaging staff, the hubs are proven to help keep professionals in their jobs.

“Integrated care systems are not in a position to find the necessary funds at this stage of their existence, so the funding we’re suggesting will enable hubs to explore different financial options to continue their vital work, or wind up their operations in a clinically responsible and ethical way.

"However, we urge the government to consider providing longer-term ring-fenced funding to meet the duty of care it has to its workforce.” 

The BPS and ACP-UK are urging the government to prioritise NHS staff wellbeing as analysis of NHS Digital data by the BPS has found that anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illness accounted for 521,600 full time equivalent days lost in August 2022 across England.

Anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illness is consistently the most reported reason for sickness absence in NHS staff across England, accounting for 25.5 per cent of all sickness absence in August 2022, compared to 20.9 per cent in July 2022.

* The BPS has analysed data from 11 NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs in England. These reported a median average of a 72% increase in referrals from 1 October 2021 – 30 November 2021 compared to the same period in 2022. The range is from a 12.5% decrease in referrals to a 244% increase in referrals. Please note that due to the current funding instability for the hubs, some started to wind down services during this period in 2022.

** As of 3 February 2023, 11 hubs reported that they have 2,812 open cases.