Call for action over NHS services

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Mental health services across Yorkshire and the Humber are buckling under rising demand, unions have claimed, amid warnings over a bleak winter to come for the wider NHS.

Research, published today by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), has found that the number of patients accessing mental health services in Yorkshire has risen 12 per cent since 2013. But in that time, it claims, the number of mental health nurses working for the NHS in the region has fallen by six per cent, with doctor numbers dropping 14 per cent.

An “unprecedented” squeeze on health service funding, alongside health workers’ pay, has been blamed by the union for rising pressures as leaders call on the Chancellor to intervene.

“The Prime Minister promised to tackle the ‘burning injustice’ of inadequate treatment for mental illness,” said TUC regional secretary Bill Adams. “But years of underfunding has created a staffing crisis in mental health services and a huge shortage of beds. This month’s Budget must provide urgent funding for the NHS, schools and councils. They need more resources to help people struggling with their mental health.”

The analysis by the TUC, claiming a clampdown on pay in the NHS has hit staffing levels, adds that more than one in 10 mental health posts are currently vacant.

Union leaders have called on the Chancellor to use this month’s budget to raise Department of Health spending to five per cent, as well as investing in local authority and school funding.

A spokesman for the department, stressing that mental health is a key priority for the Government, said: “We are transforming services with record amounts of funding, with the NHS spending almost £12bn on mental health last year.

“But we want to go further, which is why the NHS long term plan will set out how more patients will get better access to mental health services, backed by an extra £20.5bn a year investment by 2023/24.”

The report comes as trade association NHS Providers, representing acute, ambulance, community and mental health services, issues warnings over the coming winter.

Despite “extraordinary” efforts to maintain services for patients last year, the quality of care fell short of what is expected, it said.

Analysing national data, A&E performances, and the views of trusted leaders, the body has predicted that coming months could see further challenges. There are pressures across services, it warns, as well as higher levels of staff vacancies, and a weaker social care system.

The report has acknowledged improvements in some trusts, as well as additional funding and a potential for a less severe flu season. But it calls on NHS national bodies to acknowledge and plan for more complex demand, as well as urgent action to address immediate workforce problems.

“All things considered, trusts fear that this coming winter will be more difficult than the last,” said deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery. “We must escape the current and unsustainable cycle of severe winter pressures, which leaves the service playing catch up throughout the rest of the year.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We recognise winter can be challenging, but as the report itself notes, the NHS will benefit from a second year of better, enhanced, national level winter planning, as well as £420m to redevelop A&Es, improve emergency care and help get patients home quicker.

“The most recent performance statistics show that despite an increase in demand, hardworking and dedicated staff ensured that nearly 2,000 more patients a day were seen within four hours in September compared to the same month in 2017.”