One in 10 posts in specialist mental health services are already vacant and Brexit will make recruitment even tougher, a body representing trusts in the sector has warned.
In a new report, published today, the Mental Health Network said that without access to European Union workers the sector could come under “intolerable strain”.
“We must ensure that the NHS continues to have a sustainable pipeline of staff
The briefing paper – titled Brexit and mental health – cited figures from several sources to demonstrate the recruitment challenge facing the health service generally as a result of the uncertainty over the UK’s exit from the EU.
It cited the Cavendish Group, which said about 165,000 health and social care workers across the UK come from the European Economic Area. In addition, according to NHS Digital’s provisional workforce statistics from June 2017, 6.9% of nurses and health visitors were EU nationals.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said: “We must ensure that the NHS continues to have a sustainable pipeline of staff in order to deliver services.
“If we’re unable to recruit personnel from EU countries in the same numbers as we have been able to then it could lead to intolerable strain,” he said.
Mr Duggan noted that last year’s government’s commitment to an extra 21,000 mental health posts by 2020, was welcome. But he warned it was “vital that the sector could continue to recruit these much-needed staff from both EU and non-EU countries post-Brexit”.
Some regions were likely to be hit harder than others, said the network. For example, in the East of England 19% of psychiatry consultants were from EU and EEA countries.
The briefing document warned that it would be impossible for the UK to train enough nurses in time to make up any Brexit shortfall. It highlighted that 5% of nurses on the Nursing and Midwifery Council register trained abroad within the EU and 10% outside the EU.
The report stated: “In the short to medium term, it will not be feasible to meet current health and social care sector staffing needs through either additional domestic recruitment or training activity alone.”
It added that immigration rules made it “similarly unfeasible” to fill the gap by recruiting foreign nationals from outside the EU.
Because a substantial proportion of UK employment law originates from the EU, providing “important protections for health and social care staff”, Brexit could also have an impact on working conditions, it said.
Meanwhile, it argued that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU posed a threat to mental health research.
Since 2014 UK organisations have received €3.2bn (£2.8bn) through Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme, with €420m (£367m) of this coming from the health strand, including significant investment in mental health research.
“Our members need reassurance that this funding gap will be closed,” Mr Duggan said. “If the research is not continued the impact on patients a few years down the line will be immense.”
The Mental Health Network represents 93% of statutory mental health trusts in England.