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Boost to Scotland's mental health workforce promised in new 10-year strategy

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Scotland is to train an additional 800 additional mental health professionals over the next five years as part of a new decade-long strategy, but it has been claimed more will need to be done to ensure services recruit nurses and other staff in the right numbers and places.

The country’s new strategy for mental health, published last week, said the boost to the workforce would be felt in hospitals, GP surgeries, prisons and police stations.

“None of the improvements can be realised without having the right staff in the right place”

Maureen Watt

Additional investment to train the workforce would be provided, bringing investment to £35m over the next five years, said the document – titled Mental Health Strategy: 2017-2027.

The government was unable to confirm to Nursing Times how many mental health nurses this investment would cover, but said it would “take account of the mix of different staff that will be needed, different models of delivery, and implications for training and workforce development”.

It said the investment of £35m would be reached by the fifth year of the strategy and that the money was in addition to £150m funding already allocated to support innovation.

In addition, it noted that ministers had previously approved a 5% increase in mental health student nurse training places in Scotland for 2017-18, up from 443 places in the current academic year, to 465 in the next.

The plan also sets out measures to improve support for preventative and less intensive services – such as tiers 1 and 2 of child and adolescent mental health services – rolling out improved mental health training for those who support young people in educational settings, and investment in a new network to improve recognition and treatment of perinatal mental health problems.

“One of the main difficulties which may be experienced moving forward is being able to recruit the right people to the right services”

Jim McGinn

Proposals to test and evaluate the most effective and sustainable models of supporting mental health in primary care by 2019 were also put forward in the document, which included 40 actions overall.

Plans to improve the physical healthcare of those with mental health care needs were laid out as well, including piloting improved arrangements for dual diagnosis for people with problem substance use, and a focus on increasing physical health screening rates.

Minister for mental health, Maureen Watt, said: “As Scotland’s first dedicated minister for mental health, I have been driven by a simple principle – that we must prevent and treat mental health problems with the same commitment and drive as we do physical health.

“This guiding ambition is at the heart of the new mental health strategy, working to intervene as early as possible to prevent issues developing, while ensuring anyone need only ask once to get the help they need fast,” she said.

Scottish Government

Maureen Watt

Maureen Watt

“None of the improvements can be realised without having the right staff in the right place. That’s why over the next five years we will increase our investment to a further £35m for 800 additional mental health workers in key settings like A&Es, GP surgeries, custody suites, and prisons,” she added.

Unite’s mental health representative in Scotland, Jim McGinn, welcomed the government trying to address the inequality in treatment of mental health and physical health problems, and in particular the focus on prevention.

But he warned that both acute and primary care services were struggling to cope with demand and that ensuring staff were recruited in the right places was a major issue.

“Whilst financial investment is a good thing, one of the main difficulties which may be experienced moving forward is actually being able to recruit the right people to the right services,” he said. “This is an ongoing issue for the NHS in Scotland across the services.

“Some health boards in Scotland, because of their geographical location, find it more difficult than others to recruit mental health nurses. An example of this would be a NHS board in the central belt finding it easier to recruit than a board further north and covering a less densely populated area,” he noted.

The 40 actions in the strategy include:

  • Increasing the mental health workforce in A&Es, GP practices, police station custody suites and prisons – supported by £35m additional investment over the next five years for 800 extra workers
  • Review counselling and guidance services in schools to ensure they are delivering for children and young people
  • Improving support for preventative and less intensive child and adolescent mental health services to tackle issues earlier
  • Testing and evaluating the most effective and sustainable models of supporting mental health in primary care
  • Funding a Managed Clinical Network to improve the recognition and treatment of perinatal mental health problems
  • Reforming Adults With Incapacity legislation so it complies with the best international standard
  • Establishing a bi-annual forum of mental health experts to help guide the implementation of the strategy in the coming years
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