The British Psychological Society is disappointed that, despite compelling evidence of the ongoing need to support the mental health of NHS and social care staff, the government has still not clarified whether it will take action to safeguard the future of vital NHS staff mental health and well-being hubs.
Despite even more hubs having been forced to close their doors in recent weeks, the BPS is yet to receive a formal response from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care from enquiries dating back to December 2022.
Following our #FundNHSHubs campaign, which has seen nearly 600 people write to their MPs in support of the hubs, MPs including Dr Rupa Huq, Fleur Anderson, and Sarah Olney tabled questions to the Department for Health and Social Care regarding funding for an assessment of the hubs.
Responding to a written question from Dr Rupa Huq MP, Will Quince MP, Minister for Health, stated: “The health and well-being of NHS staff is a priority. NHS England has developed a range of health and well-being support for staff and published a strategy to grow and strengthen occupational health and well-being services across the NHS earlier this year. NHS staff can continue to access NHS Practitioner Health, a national support service for staff with more complex mental health needs brought about by serious issues such as trauma or addiction.”
The Minister’s response refers to NHS Practitioner Health (NHSPH) services as a system available to support NHS staff. However, this service is separate from the hubs. While it does provide important support services to some staff, it is mainly available only to specific doctors and dentists, meaning many NHS and social care workers have no access to the service.
The BPS is concerned that the Minister’s response shows a lack of understanding of the nature, function, and importance of NHS staff Mental Health and Well-being Hubs. This is of grave concern given the number of hubs that have already closed or are facing imminent closure.
Even more worryingly, NHSPH has also seen a significant increase in demand, leaving those who can access it still waiting far longer than usual for an assessment. NHS Practitioner Health often points staff in need of support to the very hubs facing the imminent threat of closure.
The BPS has repeatedly called on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to help keep the hubs open and continue to provide a vital service to health and care staff by providing a minimum of one year’s targeted transitional funding.
Established in February 2021 in response to the trauma experienced by NHS staff during the Covid pandemic, the hubs have provided NHS and social care staff with fast access to free and confidential local mental health services.
The hubs have continued to provide support beyond their original remit of tackling the pandemic, helping address sickness absences, staff burnout and stress, suicide risk and other well-being issues affecting the health and care workforce.
Government funding for the hubs ended on 31st March 2023. With no word from the government on future funding, many hubs have been forced to close, leaving healthcare staff nationwide without access to vital mental health services.
The future remains uncertain for those hubs which have survived, with many not knowing how long they can continue to provide their services to staff and some provisions being cut.