Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt could not have been more casual when questioned earlier this week about belated plans to recruit more than 20,000 specialist mental health workers by 2020-21.
They will be recruited, he said unconvincingly, before ignorning questions about how, and when, these staff will be hired and trained.
Yet, while the Minister’s ambition is laudable, he has clearly not grasped the urgency of the current crisis despite Theresa May promising last July, on day one of her premiership, to prioritise this Cinderella service. By the time Mr Hunt’s plan is implemented, the tragedy is that it will be too late for many patients.
Three disturbing developments this week confirm this likelihood. First, a High Court judge felt compelled to write to Cabinet ministers, including Mr Hunt, after no bed could be found for a suicidal girl who is due to be released from protective custody. Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge, warned “we will have blood on our hands” if care is not found. A bed was found last night.
Second, newly released figures reveal that 320 patients have had to wait more than 100 days being discharged because of funding disputes between different NHS bodies. Why can’t they work together?
And now, to compound matters, The Yorkshire Post can reveal that many NHS trusts in this region have fewer mental health staff on their books compared to five years ago.
This is despite the number of referrals reaching record levels, not least because of increased public and political awareness about the human toll caused by conditions like depression, anxiety and loneliness. Mr Hunt has now been Health Secretary for five years. The question he has to answer is why he has not done more, and sooner, to address this staffing shortfall.