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NHS England reviewing future of practitioner mental health service

NHS England reviewing future of practitioner mental health service

NHS England’s mental health support service for health professionals will no longer take on new secondary care workers, and will review its offer to all staff groups in the long term.

The NHS Practitioner Health service will remain in place for primary care staff for now, with NHS England confirming an extension for a further 12 months until the end of March 2025.

However, it has cut funding for new registrations from secondary care staff from today, meaning any new patients will be ‘signposted’ to other services such as their GP.

The service announced last Friday that NHS England is ‘undertaking a review’ for the support offer across all NHS staff groups, to consider ‘long term sustainable options’.

Healthcare staff have been able to access Practitioner Health for free since 2019, with provision being extended to everyone working in primary care in 2022.

NHS England’s decision to withdraw funding for new patients working in hospitals has been roundly criticised, with Royal College of Nursing England director Patricia Marquis describing the decision as ‘tone deaf’.

In a social media post on X, Ms Marquis said: ‘Switching off this support before the review and with no credible alternative in place feels irresponsible right now.’

And the British Medical Association said the move was ‘short-sighted’ and ‘deeply concerning’.

NHS England chief strategy officer Chris Hopson said the ‘vast majority’ of mental health support for NHS staff ‘is, and always has been, via their employer’s health and wellbeing schemes’.

The service provides treatment to healthcare professionals who are mentally unwell, supporting them to remain in or return safely to work.

According to figures for 2022/23, 6,741 new patients registered with the service, with average registrations per month at 562, up from 225 before the pandemic.

Professor Dame Clare Gerada, an ambassador for NHS Practitioner Health who is also a GP, said there is no ‘backstory’ to ending secondary care registrations other than NHS England saying there is ‘no budget’.

In a post on X, she said: ‘To remind, it was established following suicide of a psychiatrist who also killed her baby and highlighted the barriers doctors have in accessing mental health care.

‘I am so proud of the 32,000 doctors/dentists/nurses/paramedics/and others who have sought our help. Please support us now. But we will, and I promise, do everything we can to restore normal services.’

In a post on X, GP Dr Lucy Henshall described her own experience with mental health issues which forced her to pay ‘many thousands’ of pounds to see specialists, because there was ‘literally nothing’ available on the NHS at the time.

Dr Henshall later worked for NHS Practitioner Health as a clinical lead in advance of the national service being rolled out to GPs.

She said she has ‘lost count of the suicidal doctors who are still alive thanks to NHS Practitioner Health’.

‘If the humans in NHS England have even a shred of decency and humanity they will undo this heinous act tomorrow. The NHS as a whole, is entirely reliant on its people. Its workforce. Its clinicians. Anything other than a rapid u turn and full apology is unthinkable,’ she wrote.

An NHS England spokesperson said they know they ‘need to do more’ to support the workforce and that ‘staff wellbeing is a really important part’ of the long-term workforce plan’.

They said: ‘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.’

A version of this story was first published by our sister publication Pulse

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