Suicidal NHS staff will be left without support in “dangerous” situations when national funding for mental health centers ends next month, health chiefs have warned.
The hubs, set up with £15 million in government funding for post-Covid NHS workers, are being forced to close or reduce services as neither the Health and Social Care Department nor the NHS have confirmed ongoing funding for 2023-24.
This leaves thousands of NHS staff, some of whom are described as “suicidal” in “complete limbo”, The independent has been told.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Association of Clinical Psychologists said the lack of funding was an “irresponsible” way of treating vulnerable health and care workers.
It comes after The independent revealed that by 2022 NHS staff’s sick days will almost double compared to pre-pandemic levels, costing the NHS billions.
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Professor Mike Wang, chair of ACP, said: “There is a clinical responsibility, not to remove a service from vulnerable people and in difficulty… the problem with that is that funding will stop at the end of March and that is absolutely no time to do anything to make [future] stock. So it’s clinically irresponsible to stop a service just like that. Some of these individuals are, you know, at risk of suicide.”
He said it was “dangerous” and “amazing” that funding for the hubs stopped “given the current circumstances of lingering effects of the pandemic, clear evidence of underfunding of healthcare in this country”.
Professor Tony Lavender, Human Resources and Training Director for Clinical Psychology at BPD, said: “The timing of this couldn’t have been worse. It should be obvious to people that the NHS is in trouble. Just look at the difficulty of retaining staff, recruiting staff, these types of sickness rates, general morale.”
“It is almost unbelievable to withdraw a service that is about improving and helping the well-being of the workforce for which there is evidence of effectiveness.”
The BPS and ACP are calling on the government to commit to at least a year of additional funding for the hubs so that transitional arrangements can be made.
Jane Borland, a Northamptonshire nursing home manager who was referred to the hubs in 2021, said news of the end of the hubs had made her “angry”, adding “it’s really devastating”.
She said that with wait times of up to 18 months for mental health services, many colleagues were left thinking “what’s the point, I need the help in a year”.
Ms Borland, who worked during the pandemic, said: “We had no support at all … there were some scenes we witnessed that you know you never wanted to see again.”
“I didn’t really appreciate what was going on, I don’t normally have mental health issues. Normally I deal with whatever life throws at me.
She explained: “I was very angry, very angry, quite tearful when we came out of Covid. I found myself very, very tense, so I could see that I wasn’t coping very well… [the hub] I don’t think I would be here [at work].”
She said the hub provided her with a group and “a safe place” to talk about what she’s been through during Covid.
“It really helped me get to the person if my personality was the way I was. It was incredible,” Ms. Borland added.
Data from 11 of the 40 mental health centers shows that 2,800 staff currently receiving treatment will be out of services after March.
At most of these hubs, demand increased significantly between October 2021 and 2022 with an average increase of 72 percent.
An evaluation seen by The independent, showed that 52 percent of referred health workers said their mental health had been markedly affected by the work.
At least 74 percent were absent from work or considering taking sick leave, while 81 percent said they would stay or return to work after care.
According to BPS and ACP, “Hub teams are desperate for alternative financing arrangements to secure the future of the services. Some hubs have been forced to suspend services, with staff potentially facing layoffs or redeployment. One hub has already issued dismissal notices to the staff”.
A hub leader told The independent that patients would be left in “complete limbo”, adding that “is no way to run a clinical service, it’s just not responsible… folks [the hub leads] are very shocked by the situation”.
She explained that staff referred to the hub would only be left with local mental health services, for which they faced “massive waiting times”.
She said research and evidence suggest that health workers needed a very specific form of service, different from what is available on the NHS, such as talk therapies.
She added: “The staff don’t remember to rest, they need a break. It’s quite disturbing to come across and it’s widespread. It has a huge impact on staff’s ability to care for patients with empathy and this is devastating for both staff and patients.”
“[There is] a powerful link between the fitness of the staff and how well they are cared for and how they can care for patients.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The mental health and staff wellbeing centers were established in October 2020 in response to the pandemic, using additional one-off funding until the end of this year. A final decision has yet to be made on the financing of these hubs for 2023/24.”