Time is running out for government funding decision as NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs are forced to close
With four hubs already closing their doors, the BPS and ACP-UK is urging the government to make a funding decision about the future of the hubs.
14 March 2023
The BPS and ACP-UK are today warning the government that time is running out for a decision on future funding for the NHS mental health and wellbeing hubs, which offer vital psychological support for health and social care staff across England.
With government funding for the hubs ending on 31 March, at least four out of 40 hubs across England have already been forced to close, despite an interim report published by HSIB in February which identified a strong link between patient safety and NHS staff wellbeing. The HSIB report also highlighted staff concerns that support often came too late, with long waiting lists for care and help.
Launched by NHS England in February 2021, 40 staff mental health and wellbeing hubs across England 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 BPS and ACP-UK are together calling on the government to provide a minimum of one year’s transitional ring-fenced funding in its Spring Budget so that hubs can continue to provide a vital lifeline for NHS and social care staff, and identify alternative funding options to secure their future.
The UK’s leading membership organisations for psychologists have been told that in addition to at least four hubs facing closure at the end of March, some hubs are being forced to significantly scale back their services and more are expected to close in the year ahead, unless alternative funding arrangements can be found.
This means NHS and social care staff seeking help for their mental health will only receive psychological support from NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs if they work in an area that has found local funding for a hub to stay open in the short-term.
Anecdotally, some hubs have reported receiving more out of area referrals since hubs in neighbouring areas announced their closures. This means NHS and social care staff who can’t get the help they urgently need from their own local employer, are referring themselves to hubs in other areas, increasing pressure on hubs that are also facing an uncertain future.
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.
Professor Tony Lavender, workforce and training lead for the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, said:
“The devastating accounts from staff in the HSIB report represent the concerning reality of what it’s like to work in many parts of our health service – and how a lack of care for staff mental health and wellbeing can ultimately compromise patient safety.
“Health professionals are committed to giving patients the level of care they need and deserve, but when the odds are stacked against their ability to do so, it can be incredibly damaging.
“It is unacceptable that staff brave enough to ask for help with their mental health will only get the high quality and dedicated support they need if they happen to work in an area where sufficient local funding has been scraped together to keep their closest hub open in the short term.
“The NHS has a duty of care to its staff and patients, and we urge the Secretary of State to prioritise staff wellbeing and commit to further funding for the hubs.”
The findings of a rapid evidence review into how to improve NHS staff wellbeing, conducted by the International Public Policy Observatory for the Economic and Social Research Council, and published in June 2022, strongly make the case for increased investment in staff wellbeing:
- The report estimates the financial cost to the NHS of poor wellbeing at £12.1 billion a year, and that around £1 billion could be saved by successfully tackling this issue.**
- The NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission reports a cost of poor mental health in the NHS of between £1,794 and £2,174 per employee per year.***
- Using figures from NHS England April 2020-March 2021, the report estimated that a total of £6.20b was spent in England on Bank/Agency staff to cover the costs of sickness, turnover and vacancies.****
Professor Mike Wang, chair of ACP-UK, said:
“The evidence is overwhelming for continued investment in the NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs. Now is the time to build upon the hub services which provide quick, meaningful and tailored help to staff when they need it the most.
“Although the Hubs were initially formed during the Covid-19 pandemic with a focus on trauma reduction, they’ve evolved to support with staff retention and turnover, sickness levels, workforce wellbeing and suicide risk, and staff burnout.
“Staff wellbeing plays a vital role in patient care and safety, and we urge the government to consider the potential ramifications of removing the hubs.”
Find out more about the hubs
*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.
** The International Public Policy Observatory; June 2022; NHS Staff Wellbeing: Why investing in organisational and management practices makes business sense; Page 4
*** The International Public Policy Observatory; June 2022; NHS Staff Wellbeing: Why investing in organisational and management practices makes business sense; Page 21
**** The International Public Policy Observatory; June 2022; NHS Staff Wellbeing: Why investing in organisational and management practices makes business sense; Page 26