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Staff shortages are key barrier to better mental health services for children

Staff shortages are key barrier to better mental health services for children

Mental health nurses are the most difficult profession to recruit according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute.

The report, Progress and challenges in the transformation of children and young people’s mental health care, found that workforce shortages were a significant roadblock in getting quality mental health care to young people.

Through a freedom of information request to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) providers, the institute found that 83% of trusts said they had experienced recruitment difficulties in this area.

Meanwhile, the same proportion of providers had to advertise posts on multiple occasions to fill roles.

The report said: “Mental health nurses were the most difficult profession to recruit, followed by consultant psychiatrists.

“These recruitment challenges had led to an 82% increase in expenditure on temporary staffing in the last two years. In 2015/16 nearly £50 million was spent on agency staff by 32 trusts.”

Trusts were also asked how many applicants they had per post when they most recently advertised different staff positions.

It was found that in total, of the 41 trusts that responded, 51 instances of a post being advertised and receiving two or fewer applicants were mentioned.

Fiona Smith, the professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “The difficulty recruiting children and young people’s mental health nurses is symptomatic of the nationwide nursing shortage. Alongside falling levels of other support such as school nurses and health visitors, mental health services for children are fast diminishing. 

“When children’s mental health issues go undiagnosed or untreated, there can be major repercussions in adulthood. It’s not fair that some children will receive the support they need, whilst others struggle on, sometimes for years or even decades.

“A solid and effective workforce could not only help children in need now, but prevent numerous complications down the line. It’s time the Government put in the funding and the strategic planning that children’s mental health services really need – it’s an investment in our children’s future.”

However, the institutes report found that the strategic planning that has taken place so far has not translated into the funding needed for a workforce boost.

It says a King’s Fund report from April 2015 found that Health Education England reported a small increase in demand for nurses from providers in 2014/15, followed by a sustained predicted fall every year through to 2019.

The King’s Fund report noted: “Providers can only employ staff for services paid for by commissioners; the pattern up until 2014 and provider forecasts to 2019 suggest that the greater strategic priority given to mental health may not be translating into extra funding for staff numbers on the ground. This represents another major disconnect between policy and workforce planning”.

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Mental health nurses are the most difficult profession to recruit according to a new think-tank report