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Plans to transform mental health services ‘set to fail’

One in 10 psychiatric roles are unfilled

Plans to transform mental health services in England could fail because of high staff vacancy rates, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.

A survey by the college reveals one in 10 NHS consultant psychiatrist posts in England are vacant, up from one in 20 in 2013.

Vacancy rates are particularly high in areas of mental health care prioritised by the government for improvement, prompting fears that plans to transform services over the next 10 years under a major investment programme will fail.

Rates across the UK vary: in Scotland that figure is 9.7%, in Northern Ireland 7.5% and in Wales 12.7%. Across the UK that rate is 9.6%.

The college said the findings come at a time of soaring demand for mental healthcare, with a shortage of psychiatrists contributing to the lengthy waits for treatment many patients face. It warned that the impact on patients’ lives can be devastating, including divorce, debt and job losses.

Although access to children’s mental health services in England is improving, currently only 35% of those with mental illness get treatment. Earlier this year, a report published by the college found that people with eating disorders can wait up to 41 months for treatment, with adults waiting on average 30% longer than under-18s.

Similarly, many patients are still being sent away from their local area for treatment. Official data shows between April and June there was a 21% rise in the number of out-of-area bed days in England, compared to the same time last year.

Professor Wendy Burn, the college’s president, said action must be taken now to implement practical solutions which will make the NHS a better place to work. “We must urgently address some of the burning issues around the NHS workforce, such as the pensions crisis and unacceptable levels of work-related stress,” she argued.