Campaigning for the mental health workforce of the future

Find out what the College is doing to ensure the future of the mental health workforce – and how you can support our work.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a proud history of campaigning to grow the mental health workforce to be able to deliver better services for patients.  

This work aligns with the College’s Workforce Strategy 2020-2023 and Recruitment Strategy 2022-2027.  We have seen welcome progress, but growing the workforce remains critical.

Our priority campaign areas include:

  • Recruitment and retention of the mental health workforce.
  • National and local leaders treating the workforce and services associated with mental health on an equal basis to those associated with physical health. 
  • Integrated care for mental health patients, improving the patient journey through our sometimes very complex health care system.
  • Addressing inequalities affecting the mental health workforce and patients.
  • Equipping the mental health workforce to harness the new opportunities that come with increased digital capability. 

We have worked hard with national bodies and others to secure commitments in the following areas, embedding our priorities as they evolve. 

  • Stepping Forward to 2020/21: Mental Health Workforce Plan for England
  • NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan
    • At the beginning of 2019 the NHS Long Term Plan was published. It outlined the additional workforce needed to deliver ambitious commitments on mental health and beyond.
    • We engaged with national leaders to develop a vision for how people working in the NHS would be supported to deliver the plan. 
    • Later in 2019 The NHSE Mental Health Implementation Plan was published. It included a commitment to increase consultant posts in psychiatry by a further 470 posts by March 2024 as part of a planned increase of 27,460 posts in the mental health workforce overall on top of the Stepping Forward commitment.
  • 2023 Workforce Plan
    • In November 2022 the Autumn budget was announced by Government. They committed to publishing a “comprehensive” NHS Workforce Plan in 2023, including “independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in five, 10- and 15-years’ time”. We worked with over 100 health and care organisations to call for the commitment. 
  • New training posts ‘Stepping Forward’ reached its target deadline in 2021.While overall HEE did meet their target to grow the mental health workforce by the autumn of that year the number of new consultant psychiatrists (223 of the 570 committed to) and mental health nurses (2,910 of the 8,100 committed to) fell significantly short. Following the Mental Health Implementation Plan, Health Education England (HEE) committed to expanding psychiatry training programmes. In January 2023 we were pleased to see HEE announce that 273 additional Psychiatry specialty training posts have been created for the year - due to start from August. We don’t yet know how many of the posts will be core and how many will be higher. Many of the additional posts will be targeted to tackle health inequalities and ensure training places are distributed fairly to best meet patients’ needs in all parts of England. We want to make sure this progress continues.
  • Medical school places Alongside an increase in specialty programmes, there is a need for an increase in medical school places if workforce commitments are to be met in the long term. We were pleased to see this accepted by the Government who in 2023 committed to increasing medical school places by one third to 10,000 per year by 2028/29 and by double, to 15,000 per year by 2031/32. The first new places will be available in September 2025. 
  • NHS Workforce Plan In July 2023 the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was published. It set out commitments intended to recruit and retain NHS staff, including the above commitment to increase medical school places. You can read our College briefing on the plan

Expanding the psychiatric and wider mental health workforce

  • We are continuing to make the case for a bigger psychiatric workforce.
  • We are recommending that increases in medical school places are accompanied by assertive action over the longer term to ensure medical students become trainees in under-resourced specialties, including psychiatry. This includes calling for continued expansion of core and higher psychiatry posts. We also encourage medical students to specialise in the discipline through our Choose Psychiatry campaign. This article highlights key findings from our work on understanding what interventions at undergraduate level might have an impact on students choosing psychiatry as a career. We are delighted that in 2020 and 2021, 100% of core psychiatry training posts were filled.
  • We contribute to work the College’s Professional Standards Department is leading on related to Physician Associates. Guidance for employing bodies, prospective and existing Physician Associates – as well as information on our Physician Associates in Mental Health network – can be found on our dedicated pages. Of the total number of Physician Associates being trained each year, we are calling for at least 10% to work in mental health (including liaison services and GP practices).

Comprehensive workforce planning

  • We monitor progress on workforce plans and work with stakeholders to develop workforce policy. This includes continued engagement with the Government, the NHS and other bodies on the development and implementation of the NHS Workforce Plan. Moving forwards critical areas of interest include retaining the health and care workforce as well as securing expansion of core and higher psychiatry posts. 

Mental Health Act

  • Government is in the process of reforming the Mental Health Act (MHA). This is a landmark piece of legislation that provides a significant opportunity to modernise the MHA in England and Wales.
  • In its recent report the Joint Committee on the Draft Bill recommended that the Government should publish alongside the Bill a comprehensive implementation and workforce plan containing clear actions and key milestones. We endorse this recommendation.
  • You can read more about our work on the MHA, including workforce modelling which sets out how many additional psychiatrists would be required to deliver the reforms .


  • We raise with national level bodies the necessity of addressing workplace inequalities as well inequalities experienced by patients.
  • We know that workplace inequalities can impact on workforce supply as people avoid or leave the profession. We continue to call for the workforce to reflect the diverse society we live in. Widening participation and tackling differential attainment are essential to the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion. Individuals should be able to enter a welcoming and fair work environment and culture.
  • We also know that health inequalities amongst the wider public are also increasing. Social inequality, unemployment and deprivation impact on mental health, affecting both children and adults. There is a heightened prevalence of mental health problems in certain groups of the population and a demand from the workforce to acquire new skills and new ways of working in order to identify mental health problems across different groups of the population. We continue to emphasise the importance of research on the longer-term impact of the pandemic on health inequalities and demand for mental health services; and to recommend that all healthcare professionals have appropriate skills and training to minimise inequalities – including holding the competences to deliver fair, non-judgmental, and less restrictive care.

Local systems

  • Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are partnerships of organisations that come together to plan and deliver joined up health and care services locally.
  • Throughout their development we have been interested in the opportunity for ICSs to better integrate mental and physical health services, to make advances on public mental health initiatives and to improve recruitment and retention of the mental health workforce.
  • Workforce continues to be one of the greatest obstacles to mental health transformation, with our members stating that recruitment and retention of psychiatrists and the wider multidisciplinary team is a major issue. 
  • We continue to engage in a range of activities as ICSs evolve and take on greater responsibility for workforce planning and transformation activities. This includes supporting those of our members who are clinical leaders to influence and engage with the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan in their region; it also includes contributing to discussions on the oversight and governance of these systems, pointing out what they need to succeed.  We have recommended that in addition to support at a national level, NHS Trusts should develop credible mental health workforce plans and should be able to meet an annual 4% improvement target in retention of mental health staff. This is part of our wider efforts to ensure decision-makers treat the mental health workforce on an equal basis to the workforce specialising in physical health.   

We use data to track progress and trends, secure accountability and highlight concerns. This is through collecting and analysing our own data as well as analysing publicly available data from organisations such as NHS England, NHS Digital, Health Education England, the General Medical Council and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Our most recent workforce census provides important evidence of the challenges facing the psychiatric workforce. This allows it to be a valuable tool for analysing trends in England, Scotland and Wales, strengthening our policy development and campaigning.  

We want to make sure our campaigns reflect the direct experience of psychiatrists, patients and carers.

If you have anything you would like us to be aware of, or if you have any evidence or experiences that will be relevant, please send them to

Read more to receive further information regarding a career in psychiatry