Workforce shortages in mental health cause 'painfully' long waits for treatment

Press release
06 October 2021
Workforce shortages in mental health cause 'painfully' long waits for treatment

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for 7,000 more medical school places and a £1.73bn annual investment.

Record numbers of people need mental health treatment but there aren’t enough psychiatrists to meet demand, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ 2021 census has revealed.

At least 1.5 million people in England are waiting for treatment but a tenth of consultant psychiatrist posts (568 out of 5,317) are not filled. The vacancies are causing some patients to wait 18 weeks or longer for treatment.

Official NHS workforce data shows that there are 4,500 full-time consultant psychiatrists for 56.5 million people, one consultant per 12,567.

Addictions, eating disorders and child and adolescent psychiatry have the highest vacancy rates, even though the numbers of those needing support from these specialties are overwhelmingly high.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for an extra 7,000 medical school places on top of the existing 8,000 by 2029 at a total annual cost of £1.73bn.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said:

“The high number of people struggling as a result of the pandemic paired with the historic mental health backlog, have created a perfect storm.
“We’re now looking at record numbers of people having to wait for life-saving treatment, with waiting lists getting longer every day.
"If the Government is serious about addressing long-term challenges in mental health, it urgently needs to significantly invest in our workforce so that we can ensure that demand for psychiatric care can at least be met in the future.
“We simply can’t win this fight without enough psychiatrists.”

Consultant vacancy rates vary dramatically across England. The North West and Trent (East Midlands) have a vacancy rate of 15% - significantly higher than the national average of 10.68% - followed closely by the West Midlands and South West at 14%.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is also calling on the Government to invest in a further 120 core psychiatry training posts in 2022, to help build a sustainable supply of psychiatrists.

It says a long-term plan for growing the psychiatric workforce is needed alongside a multi-year settlement for training and education in order to address the mental health crisis.

Dr Kate Lovett, Presidential Lead for Recruitment at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“It’s unacceptable that we don’t have enough psychiatrists to help people with a mental illness during what’s possibly our darkest time in recent history.
“Investing in the workforce goes hand in hand with delivering quality mental healthcare.
“Without a long-term plan and investment in training and education to get more medical students and doctors to choose psychiatry, we won’t be able to finally address the scandalous geographical and specialty shortages.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is launching its Choose Psychiatry campaign to encourage junior doctors to choose psychiatry. Launched in 2017, the campaign has helped achieve 100% fill rate in the number of doctors training in psychiatry, but more medical and training places are desperately needed to address long-term workforce shortages.

Sarah, 22, from Norwich, who’s lived with an eating disorder and self-harmed throughout her teenage years had to wait five years for treatment. She said:

“Multiple long waits for mental health treatment have meant my recovery from an eating disorder, poor self-esteem and self-harming has taken far too long.
“At my lowest I was self-harming around 100 times a day, but it still took me five years to receive the treatment I needed to better manage my mental health and bring an end to the self-harming that has gripped me since my teenage years.
“I’m now as well as I ever have been thanks to the treatment I’ve received from psychiatrists and mental health staff, but I could have been on the road to recovery sooner if I hadn’t had to wait so long for care.”


For further information, please contact: