Living With Schizophrenia

Shortage of Psychiatrists in the UK Gets Worse

Posted: Friday, November 22nd, 2019

A recent report from the British Royal College of Psychiatrists has revealed the true extent of the critical shortage of psychiatrists now affecting the Mental Health Service. Around one in ten of consultant psychiatrist posts in the UK are now unfilled, a rate which has doubled in the past six years. Yet we will all remember the politicians promising to put more resources into mental health time and again. In 2017 for instance Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt promised hundreds of more psychiatrists and thousands of more nurses in the Mental Health Service. A promise which, like so many others, has proved to be unfulfilled.

In response, the Department of Health is once again promising to increase numbers of psychiatrists by increasing the intakes into the medical schools and by recruiting more doctors from abroad. Even if they manage to follow through on this promise, and on their past performance this is doubtful, setting aside the highly questionable ethics of poaching health care workers from the poorer countries where they are so desperately needed, it is still a poor solution to what is already a critical problem.

And the shortage of psychiatrists is not the only issue facing the Mental Health Service. There is also the widespread closures of inpatient beds that have been going on since the beginning of the Century. Since 2009 around 30% of our acute inpatient beds for people in crisis have been lost. This month another report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists was highly critical of bed shortages within the Mental Health Service and estimated that over a thousand additional bed spaces were needed across England and Wales. The most obvious immediate effect of bed shortages is that critically ill patients are often sent to hospitals that are some distance away from their homes and so lack the crucial support that can be provided by their loved ones. In some cases patients have been placed hundreds of miles away from their homes.

In the 1980s when we closed down the old asylums and replaced them with our current system of care in the community it was known that the new system would only work if it were properly resourced. Yet we see that today the Mental Health Service is still the poor relation in the NHS just as it was in the last century. This must change: we must see action to increase staffing and inpatient beds not simply idle promises.


Mental healthcare hit by ‘alarming’ shortage of psychiatrists, Guardian 7/10/2019, viewed 21/11/2019 at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/07/mental-healthcare-hit-by-alarming-shortage-of-psychiatrists

Mental health staff recruitment plan for England, BBC News viewed 31/07/2017 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40752060.

Number of NHS beds for mental health patients slumps by 30%, Guardian viewed 8/11/2019, at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/21/nhs-beds-number-mental-health-patients-falls

Hundreds more psychiatric beds needed to help end practice of sending patients hundreds of miles for treatment, says RCPsych, Royal College of Psychiatrists 5/11/2019, viewed 21/11/2019 at https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/news-and-features/latest-news/detail/2019/11/05/hundreds-more-psychiatric-beds-needed-to-help-end-practice-of-sending-patients-hundreds-of-miles-for-treatment-says-rcpsych

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2 Responses

  1. Stephen Dick says:

    As a survivor my memory of the north of England is that care in the community came about more in the 90’s not the 80’s.

  2. Bernie Allen says:

    The reprovision programme was effective across the country in the 70s / 80s and 90s. Closure of asylums occurring once alternative community services were robust enough to cope with the real demand upon mental health services in theory. As always, not all authorities managed to recruit the new skill mix needed for the changed services and many failed to keep the money ring fenced for the proposed service transition.

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