More nurses will be needed if the government is to sustain its newly announced waiting time targets for treating mental health conditions, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
It highlighted the thousands of mental health nurses that have been lost over the past few years and the resulting shortage of staff, particularly in senior roles.
“It’s a brave ambition and we would support it, but it’s also about building capacity and having the people to deliver it”
Last week deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the first ever mental health waiting time standards for the NHS, as part of a new £120m funding package designed to help create parity with access to treatment for physical health conditions.
The new targets include 75% of people receiving talking therapies for anxiety and depression within six weeks of referral and 95% being treated within 18 weeks. In addition, the majority of people hit by psychosis for the first time should receive treatment within two weeks of referral.
The college said it welcomed the move but cautioned that there would need to be a recruitment drive if the government was to achieve its waiting time aims in the long term.
RCN mental health advisor Ian Hulatt warned that while in the short term other members of the mental health workforce could help to achieve the waiting time targets, which will be introduced from April 2015, it would be harder to sustain without further nurse recruitment.
“It’s a brave ambition and we would support it, but it’s also about building capacity and having the people to deliver it… Increasing undergraduate members and recruitment numbers is going to have an effect on the sustainability of this target,” said Mr Hulatt.
He added: “Let’s not forget, there have been about 3,000 mental health nurses jobs that have been lost – particularly nurses in the more senior bands.”
However, a nurse academic said Mr Clegg’s announcement “rang hollow” and claimed the £120m investment would have little impact on improving mental health services.
Most were “close to breaking point” due to budget cuts and the new investment was a “drop in the ocean”, warned Chris Hart, senior lecturer in mental health at the faculty of health, social care and education at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.