Staff shortages mount among NHS mental health services

CQC raises concerns as proportion of mental health and learning disability services maintaining adequte staffing levels drops from 91% to 80%.

Workloads are increasing in mental health (Credit: Isopix/Rex Features)

Staff shortages are mounting in NHS mental health and learning disability services, the Care Quality Commission warned today.

Of services inspected from April-December 2012, 80% were assessed as having adequate staffing levels, down from 91% among those inspected in 2011-12. The CQC raised the issue as an “early warning” in its latest Care Update, summarising the performance of regulated health and social care services in England.

The finding – and others – point to rising workload pressures for mental health professionals, with the number of patients detained under the the Mental Health Act in England having risen by 5% from 2010-11 to 2011-12, while the number subject to community treatment orders rose by 10% over that period.

While performance rose on safeguarding people from abuse, where 96% of NHS mental health and learning disability services met the CQC standard from April-December 2012, up from 86% in 2011-12, and in providing care and support (76% in 2011-12 to 85% from April-December 2012), other areas suffered a fall.

Notably, compliance with the standard on managing medicines fell by 14 percentage points to 69%, while performance against the record-keeping standard fell from 83% to 61%.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said the figures reflected a recent trend of transferring NHS funding from mental to physical mental health services, despite government ambitions to put the two services on a par.

“We are particularly worried that NHS staffing levels are dropping dramatically,” he added. “It’s impossible to see how the poor record on medicines management and record keeping, for example, can start to improve without sufficient staff to do the job, yet these are fundamental activities that underpin safe patient care.”

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