Government’s additional £1.3 billion for mental health services is misleading

Adobe Spark (4)The Government has committed £1.3 billion to transform mental health services by 2021 (Health Education England (HEE), 2017). Stepping Forward to 2020/21: Mental Health Workforce Plan for England was launched by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who called it ‘one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe’ (Department of Health, 2017). The funding will go towards the creation of 21 000 new posts, including 4600 nurses working in crisis care settings and 1200 nurses and midwives in child and adolescent mental health services.

Other policies include giving an extra 1 million patients access to mental health services at an earlier stage, round-the-clock services and the integration of mental and physical health services for the first time.

Examining the plan

The scale of these proposals is commendable and reflects the additional staff required to deliver the transformation set out in The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (Mental Health Taskforce, 2016). Mental health provision has consistently been underfunded, therefore an update to place it more in line with physical health provision is long overdue.

For this reason, the announcement has been welcomed by many mental health campaigners and professionals. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) led the way in commending the Government’s plans, with Professor Wendy Burn, President of the RCP, saying the 570 extra consultants promised in the strategy will be ‘crucial to delivering the high-quality, robust mental health services of the future’ (RCP, 2017). NHS Employers said service providers will welcome national support, particularly for ‘improved access to funding for continuing professional development for the mental health workforce, and facilitating increased use of international staff where required’ (NHS Employers, 2017).

However, despite the will to welcome these proposals it would be wise to take them with a pinch of salt. While the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) encouraged the investment, it said the Government’s proposals ‘appear not to add up’ (RCN, 2017). RCN chief executive, Janet Davies, stressed that in order for the nurses to be ready in time, they would have to start training straight away. Additionally, she cites how the scrapping of nursing bursaries has led to a ‘sharp fall in university applications’.

Attrition rates on the rise

Attrition rates for all mental health staff are rising. From 2012/13 to 2015/16, the number of people leaving mental health trusts has risen from 10.5% to 13.6% (HEE, 2017). The NHS currently funds over 214 000 posts to provide specialist mental health services in England. However, over 20 000 of these vacancies are predominantly filled by bank and agency staff (HEE, 2017). It is clear the sheer scale of growth cannot be met via the traditional training routes within this timescale, as in some cases this would mean doubling or trebling the workforce. While investment is needed in the development and reskilling of existing staff, or looking to the global market for recruitment, this is an unrealistic aim.

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) is one of the groups who have raised concerns over vacancy rates. Julia Scott, CEO of the RCOT, said health and care services across the country are experiencing real difficulties in filling existing vacancies, with vacancy rates for occupational therapists of up to 50% (RCOT, 2017). She stressed that rapid action is needed to address this crisis if commitment is to be delivered.

The British Medical Association (BMA) echoed worries over recruitment, stressing insufficient psychiatry trainees across England and a high percentage of trainees not completing training in the specialty. BMA consultants committee deputy chair and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Gary Wannan, said: ‘In 2014, one in five doctors undertaking core psychiatry training did not progress into the final part of their training’ (BMA, 2017).

Government pledge still insufficient

Currently, 15.8% of people with common mental conditions access psychological therapies each year. However, even with the Government’s proposals this will only increase to 25% by 2020/21 (HEE, 2017). This is still an unacceptable figure
and one that is emphasised by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), who said the announcement falls far short of what is needed to offset the growing demand for NHS mental health services.

According to UKCP Chair Martin Pollecoff: ‘To meet even existing demand, the Government should take advantage of the vast existing workforce of therapists. UKCP alone has more than 8000 highly qualified trained psychotherapists from different backgrounds, and many of them have medical experience’ (UKCP, 2017).

Origin of investment misleading

This is not the first time the introduction of £1 billion for mental health services has been proposed. In 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced almost £1 billion of investment as part of a ‘revolution’ of mental health treatment (Prime Minister’s Office et al, 2016). This commitment from the Government sounds impressive, but has to be considered in the context of cash terms rise in the NHS budget generally. The Government has pledged to increase NHS spending in England to £120 billion by 2020/21
(HM Treasury, 2015). For mental health spending to grow at the same rate as the rest of the NHS, around 11.9% of the extra funding given to NHS England needs to be spent on mental health (Full Fact, 2016). This works out at roughly £2.2 billion. This figure far exceeds the £1.4 billion pledged in the most recent announcement and clearly represents a slower rise in spending than other parts of the NHS.

Simply not good enough

At first glance, the Government’s proposals appear to be the desperately needed boost to mental health services, which should be welcomed. However, the explanations of how additional posts will be funded or the recruitment issues overcome does not add up and are simply not good enough.

The Government has sugar-coated the amount of investment pledged and the figure still falls far below what is needed for mental health. It therefore comes as no surprise that Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley MP, said the workforce plan: ‘offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale’ (The Labour Party, 2017).

References

British Medical Association (2017) BMA responds to Department of Health mental health workforce plans. BMA, London. https://tinyurl.com/ybtgxye8 (accessed 29 August 2017)

Department of Health (2017) Thousands of new roles to be created in mental health workforce plan. DH, London. https://tinyurl.com/y9akdjdr (accessed 31 August 2017)

Full Fact (2016) Unanswered questions on “extra £1 billion” for mental health. Full Fact, London. https://tinyurl.com/y7oyy8qc (accessed 1 September 2017)

Health Education England (2017) Stepping forward to 2020/21: The mental health workforce plan for England. HEE, Leeds. https://tinyurl.com/ycebebna (accessed 25 August 2017)

HM Treasury (2015) Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015. The Stationery Office, London

The Labour Party (2017) Tory Government promising jam tomorrow when action is needed today to tackle the staffing crisis in mental health – Keeley. The Labour Party, Newcastle upon Tyne. https://tinyurl.com/y7db35pf (accessed 29 August 2017)

Mental Health Taskforce (2016) The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. NHS England, Leeds. https://tinyurl.com/gvc4or3 (accessed 25 August 2017)

NHS Employers (2017) NHS Employers welcomes plan to prioritise mental health services. https://tinyurl. com/ydg8h3ca (accessed 29 August 2017)

Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Down-ing Street, Department of Health, NHS England, The Rt Hon David Cameron, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (2016) Prime Minister pledges a revolution in mental health treatment. Department of Health, London. https://tinyurl.com/z69jcpc (accessed 1 September 2017)

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017) RCPsych response to HEE’s Mental Health Workforce Plan. RCPsych, London. https://tinyurl.com/yc2p93k8 (accessed 25 August 2017)

Royal College of Nursing (2017) RCN responds to Mental Health Workforce Plan. RCN, London. https://tinyurl.com/yavm3ulq (accessed 25 August 2017)

Royal College of Occupational Therapists (2017) Royal College of Occupational Therapists welcomes an expansion in the mental health workforce. RCOT, London. https://tinyurl.com/ycl9bss2 (accessed 25 August 2017)

UK Council for Psychotherapy (2017) We urge the Government to use existing therapist workforce to plug treatment gap. UKCP, London. https://tinyurl.com/ydfojrpk (accessed 29 August 2017)

Taken from British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, published September 2017.

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Ensuring the district nursing role does not die out

Adobe Spark (2)Recent figures published by the Welsh Government have revealed a 42% reduction in the number of district nurses in Wales between 2009 and 2015 (BBC News, 2016). The number of district nurses has fallen from 712 in 2009 to 412 in 2015, with six of the seven health boards in Wales reporting a reduction.

This follows trends seen in England in recent years, which has reported a 47% reduction in the number of qualified district nursing staff in the past decade (Royal College of Nursing (RCN), 2014). Frequent figures such as these have resulted in a warning from the RCN that district nurses are ‘critically endangered’ and face possible extinction by the end of 2025 (RCN, 2014). Consequently, it has called on the Government to fulfil its commitment to increase the number of community staff to 10000 by 2020.

Origins of district nursing

The district nursing role originated in 1859, when a wealthy Liverpool merchant, William Rathbone, employed a private hospital-trained nurse to care for his dying wife. He was struck by ‘the great comfort and advantage derived from trained nursing, even in a home where everything which unskilled affection could suggest was provided.’ Following the death of his wife, Rathbone set up a training home in Liverpool to give nurses the skills necessary to treat patients in the home.

The title came from the fact that Liverpool was split into 18 districts based on the parish system, so the nurses became known as ‘district nurses’.

There is little research, but a publication from the Department of Health revealed that more than 2.6 million people receive care from district nurses each year, in England and Wales alone, according to statistics gathered nationally (Department of Health, 2004). It is anticipated that this number will only increase.

Due to the increasing elderly population and number of people with long-term conditions, district nurses make a notable contribution to the NHS. Having specially qualified staff who are trained to deliver care to patients in their own homes, should reduce pressures on GP surgeries and emergency departments. However, the shortage of district nurses means many feel they are being pushed to breaking point. Reports of regular additional hours, activities left undone due to lack of time and a desire to leave the job are not uncommon.

The RCN have said the reduced numbers of district nurses has placed extra pressure on GP surgeries and emergency departments. Increases in caseloads from 30 patients to up to 150 means contact time is kept to an absolute minimum. This results in patients not receiving the appropriate care they need and therefore feeling they require further consultation by their GP or at the emergency department.

The future vision of district nurses

In 2009, The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) published its 2020 Vision of the future of district nursing (QNI, 2009). It marked the 150 year anniversary of district nurses and highlighted their role in health care. Fundamentally, the principles of district nursing have changed little in 150 years and consist of ‘better care, closer to home’, ‘patient choice’, ‘integrated care’, and ‘co-production’ (QNI, 2009). As a specialism, district nurses are ‘practitioners, partners and leaders’ of care in the home (QNI, 2009).

Some of the issues identified in the QNI report surrounding district nurses included: ‘loose use of the title, wide variations in pay banding and career structure, reduction in leadership opportunities and lack of recognition of the value of their specialist education’ (QNI, 2009).

It is important to highlight that there is a notable difference between nursing found in clinics, surgeries and other areas of primary care; and that found in patients’ homes. It is for this reason that the district nursing role remains an important part of the NHS.

The British Journal of Community Nursing and the QNI carried out a survey in 2008, gathering information and views from district nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland about the state of their specialism. The survey found that 13% of respondents’ employing organisations no longer use the title ‘district nurse’ at all. It also revealed that in those organisations that still use the title, more than 30% do not limit its use to those with a district nurse qualification (QNI, 2009). In some cases, the title was given to team leaders or case managers, with or without the qualification. Additionally, the survey revealed that only 48% of employing organisations continue to require district nursing team leaders to have the district nursing specialist practitioner qualification. Another 19%, who did at the time the report was published, plan to discontinue this requirement.

A follow-up report from the QNI published 5 years after the 2020 Vision, revealed an increase in the level of confusion about job titles, qualifications and roles concerning district nurses (QNI, 2014). As a result, one of the key recommendations of the the report was for a renewed investment in the district nursing specialist practitioner qualification.

Focus surrounding qualifications for district nurses was raised at the most recent RCN Congress, which passed a resolution calling on RCN council to lobby for all district nurse caseload holders to have the relevant specialist practitioner qualification (Ford, 2016). This arose amid concerns over the future of the district nursing role and its protected title. The Forum called for a practitioner who is ‘equipped with skills to manage a role that is highly complex and requires skills in negotiating, coaching, teaching and effective team management’ (Ford, 2016).

The current climate

The situation surrounding the place and role of district nurses within the NHS has gradually changed over the years. For example, it is no longer the sole role to be found delivering nursing care in the home as there are now a multitude of community roles working at different levels. The issue with this is that the meaning attributed to the district nurses’ unique title has eroded somewhat. As mentioned, some employers are using the title without the accompanying specialist qualification, further muddying the waters. District nurses are excellently placed to offer leadership over other health professionals in the home. However, if they have not received adequate training they will struggle to have the strong leadership skills required.

Within Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View he called for the introduction of a new care model known as Multispecialty Community Providers. One of the benefits of this model is to allow for the expansion of primary care leadership to include nurses and other community-based professionals. This new way of delivering care and ability to offer a wider scope of services is made possible by allowing the formation of extended group practices as federations, networks or single organisations.

Conclusions

District nurses offer a much-valued service to the NHS through their ability to treat large numbers of people at home, allowing patients to avoid having to go to hospital if they receive the appropriate level of care first-time around. However, this is only possible if the number of district nurses does not continue to fall. The reality is that those still in the role are under increasing pressure, as they find their workloads ever-increasing. The Government must fulfil its commitment to increase the number of community staff, and in particular, the number of district nurses.

Now, more than ever, is the time to reinstate the district nurse.

References

BBC News (2016) Royal College of Nursing concern over fall in district nurses in Wales. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-36828072 (accessed 17 August 2016)

Department of Health (2004) Patient Care in the Community: NHS District Nursing Summary Information for 2003–04, England. The Stationery Office, London. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_4092113.pdf (accessed 17 August 2016)

Ford S (2016) All district nurses ‘should have specialist qualification’. Nursing Times. http://www.nursingtimes.net/news/community/all-district-nurses-should-have-specialist-qualification/7005789.fullarticle (accessed 18 August2016)

Health Education England (2015) District Nursing and General Practice Nursing Service Education and Career Framework. HEE, London. https://hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/District%20nursing%20and%20GP%20practice%20nursing%20framework_0.pdf (accessed 17 August 2016)

Royal College of Nursing (2014) District nurses face ‘extinction’ in 2025. RCN, London. https://www2.rcn.org.uk/newsevents/press_releases/uk/district_nurses_face_extinction_in_2025 (accessed 17 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (2009) 2020 Vision: Focusing on the Future of District Nursing. QNI, London. http://www.qni.org.uk/docs/2020_Vision.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (2014) 2020 Vision Five Years On: Reassessing the Future of District Nursing. http://www.qni.org.uk/docs/2020_Vision_Five_Years_On_Web1.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute, NHS England (2014) Developing a National District Nursing Workforce Planning Framework: A Report Commissioned by NHS England. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/dn-wfp-report-0414.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

Taken from British Journal of Community Nursing, published 2 September 2016.