The leader of the Royal College of Nursing has called for better pay to help boost the mental health nursing workforce in the wake of a government major commitment to the sector.
Theresa May today set out a raft of policies aimed at improving mental health provision, including more than £80m of spending commitments to boost digital access and expand community services.
In her first major domestic policy speech on social reform, the prime minister said she wanted to transform the way people with mental health problems were treated.
The RCN responded by welcoming the focus on mental health but also highlighted that the recruitment and retention of more nurses was a key factor behind improving services.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The prime minister is right to draw attention to mental health - for far too long this area has not been regarded as important as physical health.
“However, improvements can only be made in all areas of health care if there are more nurses,” she stated.
“People will rightly want to see words matched by deeds, to end this damaging injustice”
She warned that the 1% pay cap on salaries and the recent axing of the student nurse bursary were “not helping to encourage people into nursing”.
“We are calling on the government to reinstate student funding and get rid of the pay cap to encourage more people into nursing,” she said.
In particular, she noted the government’s aims to tackle mental health problems earlier, by evidence promoting early intervention for children and young people.
She warned that such ambitions needed to be accompanied by action to tackle the school nurse shortage and new threats faced by health visiting.
Ms Davies said: “If the government wants to improve child mental health, there needs to be significant investment in school nurses and health visitors.
“Since 2010, the number of school nurses has dropped by 10% and over 4,000 new health visitor roles have been cut,” she said.
The RCN’s sentiments on the need for more resources were echoed by NHS leaders and other commentators on health policy.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts, said: “Theresa May is not the first leading politician to argue for true parity between physical and mental health in the NHS. However, as she acknowledged, this has yet to be achieved.
“Our recent survey of mental health trust leaders suggested that despite repeated pledges to ensure fair funding, these commitments are unlikely to be consistently met,” he said. “People will rightly want to see words matched by deeds, to end this damaging injustice.”
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “The prime minister’s welcome vision for mental health reflects our members’ own experiences on the front line where it is clear that greater parity alongside physical care would be an effective way to begin improving public health.
He added: “Mental health services still need the government’s support to speed-up promised funding, much of which is delayed, but we are very pleased that mental health is being accepted as a major priority going forward.”
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Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “It is now essential that extra funds for mental health reach the front line, as our analysis suggested that promised increases in funding have not materialised in many areas.
“We also welcome her recognition of the vital role of schools and businesses in promoting mental wellbeing,” he said.
“Our concern is how these ambitions will be achieved when public health, early years provision, and other social support services are seeing their budgets cut,” he added.
In a joint statement, Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons’ education committee, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health committee, said: “If long-term improvements are to be achieved then schools and health services must be given the proper resources, support and expertise so they can work more closely and effectively together.”