The Scottish Government has committed to increasing ‘mental health capacity’ within general practice and to commission a review into mental health nursing within the country.
The pledges are contained within the newly published Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Action Plan 2023-2025, which sets out how the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) intend to address a range of key workforce issues.
The plan contains a commitment by the government to commission a review into mental health nursing in Scotland, which will consider what needs to be done to attract, grow, support and develop the mental health nursing workforce.
In addition, the newly established Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce will ‘consider and address issues’ to build ‘exemplary workforce cultures, addressing operational barriers and improving working conditions, facilities and learning opportunities’.
While welcoming the proposed review, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland insisted that ‘this must produce fully funded actions to retain and recruit mental health nurses’.
RCN Scotland also expressed disappointment over the lack of costings within the Workforce Action Plan, and cited a recent Audit Scotland report into adult mental health provision that found vacancies for mental health nurses have more than doubled between March 2017 and March 2023.
Almost 9% of registered mental health nurse posts within NHS Scotland were vacant at the end of June 2023 and in recent years the number of people choosing to study mental health nursing has failed to fill the number of funded places at Scotland’s universities, RCN Scotland added.
Eileen McKenna, associate director for nursing, policy and professional practice for RCN Scotland, said: ‘The review into mental health nursing in Scotland provides much needed recognition of the role nursing plays in Scotland’s mental health services.
‘Mental health nurses are highly skilled clinicians working across acute and community services and there simply aren’t enough of them.’
The Scottish Government ‘must ensure their review aligns with the work of the Ministerial Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce’, Ms McKenna said.
‘These are critical for achieving a mental health nursing workforce that can meet increasing need and must deliver positive change for nursing staff and the people they care for.’
According to the Scottish Government, its recruitment actions will seek to increase the diversity of the mental health and wellbeing workforce, attracting people from remote and rural areas, including islands.
Other actions highlighted in the plan include the development of multi-disciplinary teams in general practice as part of a drive to improve access to support, assessment and treatment in primary care mental health and wellbeing services across Scotland.
The plan stressed it was a priority to ‘increase mental health capacity within general practice and primary care’, as well as in universal and community-based mental health services.
And it said there was a need to: ‘Promote the whole system, whole person approach by helping partners to work together and removing barriers faced by people from marginalised groups when accessing services.’
Actions also included the updating of the resource pack developed to support mental health workers in general practice settings, bringing together a range of national resources and tools that support and improve mental health and wellbeing.