A forecasted reduction in the number of NHS mental health nursing jobs over the coming years could threaten the government’s ambition to see it put on an equal footing with physical treatment, it has been claimed.
Mental health trusts are predicting a falling number of NHS nursing vacancies in the sector – down from the current 2,330 whole-time equivalent empty posts to 1,473 by 2019.
Education and training body Health Education England requested the job forecasts from trusts as part of its future workforce planning.
It was advised by trusts that the data reflected a continuing trend towards NHS mental health services being provided under contract by the private and voluntary sector, rather than directly by the NHS.
“Employers [of mental health nurses] are forecasting less of a demand…This is an area we’ve got to keep under review”
The trend comes alongside a consistent reduction in the number of mental health nurses employed by the NHS in the past four years – a decrease of 3,062 WTE posts, or 7.3% of the workforce, over the period.
But HEE raised doubts about the trust’s desire to reduce available posts. It noted that it was unable to measure the scale of the shift to private mental services and, instead, questioned whether financial constraints had led employers to forecast a reduced number of vacancies in the future.
HEE’s workforce planning team said it was concerned that the predicted drop in demand for mental health nurses could threaten the government’s aim of creating parity of esteem between mental and physical health services and treatment.
It said it believed an additional 2,630 WTE posts – a 6.8% growth in the workforce – would be needed by 2019. Therefore, despite trust’s forecasts of reduced need, the body said it would increase the number of training places for mental health nurses to help reach this target.
In its 2015-16 workforce plan for England, released earlier this week, HEE confirmed an additional 100 education places, up 3.2% from last year.
HEE director of strategy and planning Jo Lenaghan said the trust forecasts did not feel “intuitively right”.
“Employers are forecasting less of a demand, which we then locally and nationally triangulate and say: ‘given what we’ve had in recent announcements around parity of esteem – do we think they are really thinking forward enough about the profession?’,” she said.
“This is an area we’ve got to keep under review,” she added.
A spokeswoman for HEE told Nursing Times: “We will be working with service commissioner colleagues, locally and nationally, to establish the level of demand they intend to support.”
However, the Royal College of Nursing said HEE’s increase in mental health nurse training for next year was “nowhere near enough” to redress the recent reductions in staff number.