Psychiatrist ‘workforce crisis’ as mental health services strained, MSPs warn

Scotland news
28 February 2024

There is a 'workforce crisis' among NHS psychiatrists as mental health services come under strain, MSPs have warned.

Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee said there is increasing demand for mental healthcare since the onset of the pandemic, with the cost-of-living crisis further exacerbating pressure.

A report called on the Scottish Government to improve data-gathering and better understand the demand for services.

It said there is a 'workforce crisis' facing NHS psychiatrists as well as a 'costly' over-reliance on locums.

The report recommended an urgent audit of support for lone parents who have mild to moderate mental health issues.

However, it welcomed a commitment to ensure that every GP practice has access to a mental health and wellbeing service by 2026.

Responding to the report, Dr Jane Morris of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland said the Scottish Government should look at funding urgently. She said:

“Working on the frontline we’ve known for quite some time that we have a workforce crisis on our hands.

“It takes around 13 years to train to be a psychiatrist and with others retiring this is leaving a huge gap in mental health services. Our patients deserve so much better than this.

“The situation is dire because we have a high vacancy rate coupled with problems with recruitment and retention which has resulted in a postcode lottery of mental health services across the country.”

Richard Leonard, convener of the Public Audit Committee, said:

“We heard the message loud and clear from those we took evidence from – this is a system under immense pressure.

“Demand is rising, and despite a significant increase in funding for adult mental health services over recent years, incomplete and poor quality data makes it difficult to know with any certainty whether this has led to an improvement in people’s mental health.

“The committee welcomes the work under way to address a lack of information on primary care and will be keeping a close eye on the progress of this work.

“We are also concerned that not everyone who prefers face-to-face support is receiving it and call on the Scottish Government to look into why there is such a significant variation in the number of face-to-face versus remote appointments across Scotland.”

Jo Anderson, of the charity SAMH (Scottish Action for Mental Health), said:

“SAMH has long been calling for fundamental reform of how we design, resource and deliver mental health care in Scotland.

“This timely report from the Public Audit Committee shows that systems change is now imperative if we are to meet the growing demand from, and needs of, people with mental health problems.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

“The Scottish Government acknowledges the Public Audit Committee’s report, and thanks everyone who gave evidence to the committee. We will now take the time to carefully consider the report’s findings.

“Our mental health and wellbeing strategy was published jointly with Cosla last summer.

“This was followed by the strategy’s first delivery plan and workforce action plan in November.

“The strategy, delivery plan and workforce action plan acknowledge many of the issues raised by both the committee’s report, and in the recent report by Audit Scotland. They lay out an initial set of actions that we will take to address those issues.”

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