A third of the 41 mental health hubs set up to support NHS staff have already closed, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said. The closures have left an estimated 1 million staff without support.
A further seven of the specialist hubs, which opened during the Covid-19 pandemic, have less than a year’s funding available, leaving thousands more staff at risk of losing out.
It comes despite a ‘deepening mental health crisis’ among nursing staff, the RCN said.
Staff sickness data, published by NHS England, has shown that more than 1.5 million nurse and health visitor days were lost in 2022 due to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illness, with one-in-five sickness days lost to mental health problems. And in 2022, 366 nurses died by suicide, a 62% increase from 2020.
The RCN has now called on the Government to provide funding for dedicated mental health provision for nursing staff.
Patricia Marquis, RCN director of England, said: ‘There is a stress and anxiety crisis in this profession – across the NHS and social care – as professionals try to cope and do more with less. When nursing staff need mental health support, they deserve it and should not face barriers and delays.
‘If nursing staff can’t access support, how are they going to support their patients? Unsafe staffing levels are putting patients at risk while emotionally draining the nursing staff who are desperately trying to provide the best care they can.’
Commenting on the closures, Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: ‘Some NHS services will have other support in place, but health leaders will be particularly concerned for those that do not have any support in place.
‘The right support, such as hubs, gives an opportunity for staff to feel safe to talk about their mental health problems. Further to this we know that to continue to improve care for patients staff need to feel they have somewhere to turn to when it all gets too much. There must be preventative measures in place, which would include easy access to mental health support, as well as the understanding that these mental health hubs are a lifeline for many staff working in the service.’
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, commented: ‘Wellbeing hubs have provided crucial mental health support to health and care workers since they were introduced during the pandemic. ‘Closure on this scale is deeply worrying as it will prevent overstretched staff from getting the support they need to live healthy lives and deliver high-quality care for patients, which is their number one priority.’
A version of this article first appeared in Healthcare Leader