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Around 4,500 more people have joined the NHS children’s mental health services in England – 40% more than before the pandemic.
The new recruits include dozens of psychological practitioners to specifically help young people aged 13 to 17 years-old with severe mental health problems such as severe depression, self-harm and more complex conditions, by offering them assessments, coping strategies and support in the community.
In the year up to April 2022 over 677,000 children and young people were supported by NHS services – an increase of around 163,000 since the launch of the NHS Long Term Plan.
The rise comes as Claire Murdoch, head of mental health services in England, calls on even more people to join the mental health workforce to fill some of the country’s 22,000 vacancies in mental health.
Vacancies include thousands of brand new roles to meet the rising demand, including new wellbeing practitioners to help children and young people and their parents identify and treat common mental health problems before they become more serious.
Claire Murdoch, NHS Mental Health Director, said: “There has never been a more important time to work in children’s mental health – demand for NHS services has skyrocketed over the last two years with the pandemic taking a significant toll on the nation’s wellbeing.
“Thousands of new staff have already joined the ranks, as the NHS launches even more brand new roles to meet record demand across the country to provide specialist support for children and young people to help with the pressures they face.
“Becoming a mental health nurse was one of the best decisions of my life and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about a career which can have a positive impact on people’s lives, to join the NHS and be part of our efforts to support people suffering from poor mental health, as we look to make our patient services even stronger than they were before the pandemic hit.”
Between March 2019 and March 2022 the NHS mental health workforce has grown by 18,583 full time staff, with the children and young people workforce increasing by almost 4,500.
Mark Radford, Chief Nurse at HEE, said: “It’s great news and extremely important that the mental health workforce in England is growing. Collaborative effort with the NHS, charities and those who use our services has been vital to achieve this. Demand for services has risen and to provide safe, effective quality services we need the right support available at the right time and in the right place.
“This growth involved creating new roles which offer tailored support alongside building the skills, knowledge and abilities of our existing mental health workforce, with a focus on using those who use mental health services to create learning programmes for the people who work with them – so their needs inform everything that we do. It is essential that we continue to invest in education and training to grow the workforce further.”
Minister for Mental Health Gillian Keegan said: “It’s vital we have the right mental health support in place for children and young people.
“These additional staff are another significant step in ensuring children can access the support they need, as early as possible.
“This, alongside our £79 million to expand mental health support teams in schools to reach 3 million pupils by 2024 and our record investment to expand and transform services giving an additional 345,000 children access to support by 2024 will enable more children and young people to live full, healthy lives”.
Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “It is fantastic to see so many new recruits answering the call to make a career in child and adolescent mental health services and the College extends them the warmest of welcomes.
“As we are continuing to see the pandemic’s impact on children and young people’s mental health, further action is needed to address workforce shortages, particularly of consultant psychiatrists and mental health nurses. A career in child and adolescent mental health services can be fulfilling and exciting, and we will need more talented people to join the workforce to ensure all patients can get the help they need, when they need it”.
Olly Parker, Head of External Affairs at YoungMinds said: “We are encouraged to see that there are more NHS staff available to give much needed support to young people with their mental health, which will enable the NHS to support more children and young people as we continue to see referrals to the NHS reach record highs each month.
“Latest NHS data shows 66,389 young people aged 19 and under were referred to child and adolescent mental health services in April, a 109% rise compared to the same month pre-pandemic. This highlights not only the sheer amount of pressure on the NHS right now but the importance of continuing to focus on recruitment and retention of staff so children and young people are seen by a specialist as quickly as possible”.
Mary Oshinnaya aged 28 is a Children’s Wellbeing Practitioner employed at Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, she said: “In my role as a Children’s Wellbeing Practitioner, I have worked with many children and young people with varying needs and challenges.
“The best thing about my job is providing a listening ear, it makes a difference to people if they can find someone who listens to them and helps them feel less alienated.
“There is nothing more rewarding than being able to support a child, young person, or families during a difficult period. I consider it a privilege to play a role in someone’s journey, providing them different strategies to manage and build resilience. Building a connection and rapport with people has been wonderful and observing the transformation through the course of the intervention is one of the best things about my role”.
Carolyn Beddows a trainee associate psychological practitioner for the early intervention team in Tameside started her role in April, she said: “This role is perfect for me as there’s huge opportunities for progression. After a year of training, I’m guaranteed a permanent role as an associate psychology practitioner.
“I’ve always been interested in mental health and understanding people’s behaviour. I’m excited to be starting in my role and helping to make a difference to people’s lives”.
The trainees will provide psychological support to patients and community groups, offering self-care techniques and promoting healthy emotional wellbeing.
Caroline Engelen-Gardner, 39 from Durham, used to work for HSBC but is now training to become a Mental Health Nurse. In November 2020, after 17 years of working as a Senior Retail Branch Manager with HSBC UK, she was made redundant and was inspired to pursue a career in mental health having suffered from anxiety and depression in the past.
Caroline said: “It was a shock at first, and I hadn’t thought about changing careers prior to this, but redundancy enabled me to reconsider what I wanted to do. I realised I had another 25 years left of my working life and wanted to make a real difference. I’m glad I can be a role model to my children and show them everyone can follow their dreams.
“I believe that the effects of the pandemic have also taken their toll on everyone’s mental health, and I want to understand more and give back to make a positive impact on people’s lives”.