Yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced it is time to address the 'historic imbalance' between physical and mental health services in the UK, releasing a plan that will see thousands of new mental health workers recruited into the NHS.

At a cost of £1.3bn, 21,000 new posts will be created, with an aim of treating an extra one million patients by 2020/21. The focus lies on providing more nurses, therapists, psychiatrists and peer support workers, with a particular focus on child and adolescent mental health and talking therapies for adults. 

Claire Murdoch, national mental health director at NHS England, has emphasised the plan is not just about numbers: "It's about having a motivated and skilled workforce in place to deliver the work we need to do." As well as recruiting new staff, the plan will focus on existing staff training and work towards reducing the high dropout rates of trainees working in mental health services in England. 

The plans include:

  • 2,000 more nurses, consultants and therapist posts in child and adolescent mental health services
  • 2,900 additional therapists and health professionals supporting adult talking therapies
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings
  • more mental health support for women around the time they give birth and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis

The plan has received mixed reviews. Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing argues that it doesn't "add up", expressing concerns that the budget isn't enough to secure what the plan is promising within the detailed timescale: "There is already a dangerous lack of workforce planning and accountability and this report is unable to provide detail on how the ambitions will be met. It is clear the government will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in mental health services in 2010. Under this government, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed."

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: "The government and NHS England have rightly prioritised mental health services. This focus on the workforce that provides this care is hugely welcome - especially given the pressures and challenges staff are facing. Service providers will absolutely play their part in delivering this ambitious plan. They will also look forward to national support, particularly for improved access to funding for continuing professional development for the mental health workforce, and facilitating increased use of international staff where required."

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: "Securing a sustainable mental health workforce fit for the future is crucial in delivering the much-needed transformation laid out in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. We welcome the commitment to attracting and retaining new staff. It is also essential that we support our current workforce, providing them with training, support and development opportunities to ensure the mental health sector presents an attractive career path on which people want to remain."

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has welcomed the Government’s plans. Chair Dr Andrew Reeves said: “It’s great news that the Government are employing more therapists on the NHS. Jeremy Hunt talks about having the right people in post and a drive to retrain and retain existing staff.  The Government need to look no further than the thousands of under-utilised trained counsellors that have been marginalised and had their numbers cut over many years. The counselling workforce is already there and willing to fill these new posts now and immediately start helping the people get the support they need on the NHS.”

UKCP Chair, Martin Pollecoff, said: “The Government’s announcement today falls far short of what is needed to offset the growing demand for NHS mental health services and will not hold up long-term. Government figures show that by 2020/21, only one in four people who need therapy will be offered it. That’s unsustainable. To meet even existing demand, the Government should take advantage of the vast existing workforce of therapists. UKCP alone has more than 8,000 highly qualified trained psychotherapists from different backgrounds, and many of them have medical experience. We encourage the Government to draw from already established bodies such as ourselves to create a sustainable service.”