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'The mental health of all health and social care staff needs supporting'

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The flurry of press releases this week signalled the approach of World Mental Health Day, as did the timing of a few new policy pledges from the UK governments and their arm’s-length bodies.

I always wonder why they often decide to wait for an awareness day before announcing important and urgently needed policy, but that’s by the by.

Last Friday, NHS England committed funding to give every GP in the country access to a confidential and “non-stigmatising” service for help with issues such as anxiety, depression or addiction.

A subsequent post about the scheme on social media site Twitter by health secretary Matt Hancock quite rightly attracted questions about why it was only targeting doctors and no other staff groups.

Most organisations that Nursing Times spoke to this week about the policy agreed it was a good idea and very much needed. But all criticised the focus on only one part of one profession.

We know there is a shortage of primary care doctors and that their representatives on the British Medical Association’s GP committee have a very loud voice.

But there are well-documented pressures and shortages affecting many sectors and professions – especially nursing and midwifery. Odd then to focus on GPs and to not even include practice nurses.

Naturally, Nursing Times asked NHS England about it. The body responded by saying a new NHS plan, due this autumn, would contain a renewed focus on staff mental health as well as patients.

“Many NHS staff working highly-pressurised circumstances are at risk of developing mental health problems”

A spokesman for NHS England told Nursing Times that this much anticipated 10-year blueprint for the health service would “consider the distinctive needs of other staff groups in the NHS”.

A slightly ambiguous response, given that many NHS staff working in highly-pressurised circumstances are at risk of developing mental health problems.

As discussed last week at the inaugural Nursing Times Workforce Summit, the mental health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce is often overlooked, including by staff who are affected themselves.

I was heartened, therefore, to hear NHS Improvement’s Caroline Corrigan and Jessica Watts tell the conference about the work in development on these important areas – it cannot come soon enough.

As I pointed out to them, it is now almost a decade since the publication in 2009 of the Boorman report, which highlighted the importance of prioritising staff health and wellbeing within the NHS.

“We cannot afford to lose staff simply by not looking after them”

The need is urgent, not least because – given the current workforce shortage – we cannot afford to lose staff simply by not looking after them.

Today we have also published an interview with Ged Swinton,an emergency care nurse who has been off sick for five months with depression and anxiety after mounting pressures at work collided with challenges with his personal life.

Mr Swinton told Nursing Times how we struggled on in silence for years out of fear of leaving colleagues in the lurch and letting down patients. By the time he sought help he had hit crisis point.

My message is quite simple. The mental health of all health and social care staff needs supporting. Focusing a policy on one staffing group – however much in need – just alienates everyone else.

I look forward to seeing how the new NHS 10-year plan will address this, because it must.

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