More than one million waiting for mental health treatment with one in 10 doctor posts empty

‘We simply can’t win this fight without enough psychiatrists’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 07 October 2021 06:50
comments
<p>More than a million patients are thought to be waiting for mental health treatment </p>

More than a million patients are thought to be waiting for mental health treatment

One in 10 posts for consultant psychiatrists in England are vacant with growing waiting times for people needing mental health treatment, experts have warned.

A census of the current situations across England by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has found there is just one psychiatrist for every 12,567 people in England.

Health service bosses at NHS England have acknowledged there are an estimated 1.5 million people who are waiting for mental health support amid fears the situation will worsen as the effects of the Covid pandemic become clear.

This is on top of the 5.6 million patients waiting for routine operations and treatments for physical illness.

The Royal College said there was a shortage of 568 empty consultant posts in the NHS out of a total of 5,367 which it said meant patients would have to wait longer for treatment. In total there are 4,500 full time consultants working in the NHS.

The highest rates of unfilled positions are in the fields of addiction, eating disorders and child and adolescent psychiatry.

High vacancy rates for consultant psychiatrists vary across England - in the North West and the East Midlands 15 per cent of posts are unfilled compared with the national average of 10 per cent.

The Royal College said a long term workforce plan was needed with 120 junior doctor posts created in 2022 along with 7,000 medical school places by 2029 with an annual investment of £1.7 billion.

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “The high number of people struggling as a result of the pandemic paired with the historic mental health backlog, have created a perfect storm.

“We’re now looking at record numbers of people having to wait for life-saving treatment, with waiting lists getting longer every day.

"If the government is serious about addressing long-term challenges in mental health, it urgently needs to significantly invest in our workforce so that we can ensure that demand for psychiatric care can at least be met in the future.

“We simply can’t win this fight without enough psychiatrists.”

A campaign to boost the numbers of junior doctors choosing to work in psychiatry since 2017 has seen a 100 per cent fill rate for training places but more are needed.

Sarah, aged 22, from Norwich, who’s lived with an eating disorder and self-harmed throughout her teenage years had to wait five years for treatment.

She said: “Multiple long waits for mental health treatment have meant my recovery from an eating disorder, poor self-esteem and self-harming has taken far too long.

“At my lowest I was self-harming around 100 times a day, but it still took me five years to receive the treatment I needed to better manage my mental health and bring an end to the self-harming that has gripped me since my teenage years.

“I’m now as well as I ever have been thanks to the treatment I’ve received from psychiatrists and mental health staff, but I could have been on the road to recovery sooner if I hadn’t had to wait so long for care.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Early support and treatment is vital. We are delivering the fastest expansion in mental health services in NHS history, backed by an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 so hundreds of thousands more children and adults can access services.

"We are fully committed to attracting, training and recruiting the workforce of the future. We have provided an additional £111 million to support the training and education of NHS mental health staff, and have increased the number of medical school places by 1,500 over recent years - a 25per cent increase - as well as opening five new medical schools across the country."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments