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Mental health must promote itself in 'different way' to attract more staff, says trust chief

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Efforts to attract 19,000 extra people into the mental health workforce by 2021 must involve promoting the personal difference staff can make to service users while ensuring the reality of the job is not “disappointing”, a leader of a mental health NHS trust has urged healthcare bosses.

The “fundamentally stressful and traumatic” nature of clinical mental health work must also be talked about more to ensure time for staff supervision and reflection can be factored into decisions about how services are run, the chief executive added.

“I think we’ve got a really exciting opportunity to promote careers in mental health in a different way”

Paul Jenkins

Mental health services do not have the same “fancy” drugs or equipment as physical healthcare services, noted Paul Jenkins, chief executive of The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust at an event in London yesterday.

He stressed it was the personal interventions by staff and their relationships with patients that made the difference to mental health care and that this should be the focus to “sell” careers in the field.

The chief executive was speaking as part of NHS Confederation’s annual conference for its Mental Health Network, which represents NHS-funded mental health and learning disability service providers in England.

NHS workforce proposals, published in the summer to deliver services changes under the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, state 19,000 new members of staff are required by 2020-21 to help fill 21,000 more posts.

Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins

“I think we’ve got a really exciting opportunity to promote careers in mental health in a different way than we have done in the past,” said Mr Jenkins, who also noted that more young people were engaging with mental health and may be motivated to join the sector.

“We don’t, in the same way acute physical healthcare does, have many fancy drugs, we don’t have many bits of fancy kit. What makes the difference in mental health care is the quality of people, quality of relationships, the quality of personal interventions,” he said.

“So, if you are selling a career in mental health, it’s about selling [that] you personally make a difference to what happens to people who use our services, and their families,” said Mr Jenkins.

He later added: “The only caveat is making sure the promise of what it is like to work in mental health is not disappointing when people come to the reality.”

Mr Jenkins highlighted the loss of 12% of mental health nurses from the NHS in recent years and also that many mental health clinicians left their posts in the early stages of their careers.

”It saves the NHS money and time, and that commitment in terms of people going out of the door”

Yvonne Coghill

He said mental health leaders needed to be “much bolder” when speaking about the stress of clinical work in the sector. “That’s not to devalue it or say it doesn’t have many compensatory positives about it,” he said.

“But we need to make sure when we are talking about issues around productivity, [that] we give proper allowance to the fundamentals of good clinical supervision, of time for reflective practice, that allow staff to recharge their batteries, share their experiences with colleagues and be in a position to go back and contribute again,” he said.

During the same discussion, Yvonne Coghill, a nurse and director of NHS England’s Workforce Race Equality Standard programme, urged leaders to address the lack of senior NHS roles filled by staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to help with staffing issues.

Improving staff engagement and the number of BME staff in senior roles could mean fewer staff leave due to lack of career progression, she suggested.

Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill

She noted that the WRES programme, which compares the treatment of BME and white staff in the NHS, had revealed a “big gaping hole” between the two groups’ experiences.

She also highlighted that around a third of the nurse workforce and almost half of medical staff in the NHS were from BME backgrounds, but that only 3% of managers were from BME backgrounds.

“We need to start looking at how we, as senior leaders, actually address that. Not just because it is the right thing to do – but actually it saves the NHS money and time, and that commitment in terms of people going out of the door,” she told delegates.

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