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Union members call for funding to bolster mental health workforce

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Union members have voted to campaign for better resources for mental health services including a guaranteed share of the NHS budget, in a bid to ensure sufficient staff numbers across the sector.

The move comes as part of a motion titled “mental health, workload and burn out”, which was debated at Unison’s annual health conference in Bournemouth on Monday.

“We are now seeing burn out of staff and a rise of mental health issues”

Carol Hall

It was passed after union members heard from those behind the motion that healthcare staff were “leaving in droves” because of work-related stress.

Launching the motion, Susan Highton, from Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There are no resources in mental health services. They’ve been cut, cut and cut.”

Ms Highton, who spoke on behalf of the Yorkshire, Humberside Unison region, told members that something must be done to address cuts on mental health services across the country.

The motion also called for mental health champions and mental health first aiders to receive continued support within NHS organisations.

“Where there is structured support for those undertaking these roles, ensuring staff are better supported in a pressured work environment,” she told delegates.

Her branch said it recognised that politicians from all parties had started to realise the prevalence of mental health problems and the growing need for more to be done to provide help to those who need it.

“There are no resources in mental health services. They’ve been cut, cut and cut”

Susan Highton

However, it warned that there was a danger that the voices who provide mental health services were not heard.

According to those calling for the motion, many mental health staff have had to do unpaid overtime – in which six out of 10 people said an increased workload is a cause for this.

In addition, her region stated that mental health workers in the NHS were reaching burn out and more staff were finding themselves on long term sick leave- posing a further burden on their “overstretched” colleagues.

In her speech in support of the motion, Ms Highton also said that staff were “leaving in droves” because of stress in the workplace.

Another speaker for the motion, Tanya Pretswell, from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, told delegates that she had heard from community staff who were having to complete notes at home in their own time due to their workload.

She said: “Many staff say they are no longer doing the job that they love, more that they are ‘firefighting’.”

In addition, Carol Hall, representing the Northern Ireland Unison region, also spoke for the motion.

“We are now seeing burn out of staff and a rise of mental health issues,” said Ms Hall.

She added: “All trusts have a duty of care to staff as well as patients.

“Staff feel vulnerable, staff feel stressed, staff need help,” she said.

Pat Heron, of the National Women’s Committee charity who also spoke for the motion, said that mental health services are “broken and towards crisis”.

Ms Heron, who has been working in mental health services for over 40 years told delegates that nurses have told her it’s “like being at war on a battle field and knowing you’re not winning”.

She added that “staff are saying they dread coming to work”.

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