News round-up (23 February 2024)

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22nd February 2024 about a 6 minute read

Two reports, one from the BMA and one from the King’s Fund, say that mental health services in England are at breaking point, due to a combination of increased demand, under-staffing and lack of funding. The scale of the staff shortage means that some private hospitals are offering ‘golden hellos’ to mental health professionals, a recruitment site has found. Meanwhile a new international study points to one of the possible sources of an increase in rates of mental ill health – the coverage of the war in Ukraine, which adversely affected people’s mental wellbeing.

Mental health system is broken, says BMA report

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) says that England’s mental health system is broken.

The report, based on interviews with frontline doctors, says that mental healthcare has not been provided with the funding or staff necessary to achieve the level of improvement needed for patients and the doctors who work within it.  Services are facing ever increasing demands, and doctors are becoming increasingly frustrated, as they are less and less able to provide the best care for their patients, the report says.

It adds that, across the NHS, doctors are struggling to give patients the care they need because infrastructure and systems are not fit for purpose. Pinpointing how much extra funding is needed is hard, the report argues, because of the lack of consistent data on the prevalence of mental illness in England.

Social media coverage of war affects mental wellbeing, study finds

There was a global downturn in people’s sense of wellbeing after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, a study led by Münster University in Germany has found.

The study, carried out between late 2021 and summer 2022, was based on 45,000 individual surveys completed by 1,300 people from 17 European countries. In exploring the moods people experienced day by day in the weeks surrounding the outbreak of war, it showed collective mental stress larger than after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima in 2011 and after the Covid lockdown in 2020.

People in Europe demonstrated a significantly lower sense of wellbeing than those in the rest of the world. Deterioration in the average level of mental health was observed on days on which the war had a particularly strong presence on social media.

The researchers also found that people with a more vulnerable and less stable personality had not recovered a month after the beginning of the war.

Children’s mental health project wins funding

Arts4Us, a new mental health project for children and young people, has won £2.5m funding.

The project will bring together, under one digital platform, the best practice in arts and arts therapies, making it easier for young people and their families to find the crucial help they need.

NHS services will also be able to use the platform to signpost patients to support, building collaborations across community partners and healthcare in the North West and, as the project can be scaled up, also nationally and internationally.

Professor Vicky Karkou of Edge Hill University, who is leading the project, said: “Thinking and talking about problems is not always how children choose to communicate and resolve their problems. Creative interventions, like music classes, painting sessions, drama and theatre projects or dance movement therapy groups, are an effective alternative but may not be easily accessible in mental health services.”

Prisoners with mental illness wait too long for beds

Prisoners with severe mental illnesses are waiting too long for hospital care, according to a new report from the chief inspector of prisons, Charlie Taylor.

The report shows that inmates are waiting an average of 85 days to be sent to hospital, with the longest wait 462 days. The threshold is 28 days.

Across 21 prisons in England, only 15% of people were being transferred within this timeframe, with some waiting more than a year, the report says.

Part of the reason for the backlog is a lack of secure beds in hospital.

“These are people who shouldn’t be in prison at all. They’re too ill to be in prison, they should be in hospital,” said Taylor.

During a 2022 visit to HMP Eastwood Park, to the north of Bristol, Taylor said he witnessed “bloodstains on the floor and scratch marks on the walls – evidence of the levels of distress of the women being held there”.

Mental health workers offered ‘golden hello’

Mental health workers are being offered welcome bonuses by private hospitals, according to a new analysis.

The job website Adzuna found that some hospitals are resorting to sign-on payments to attract new hires. The most lucrative was a £40,000 “welcome payment” for a child psychiatrist role at an independent hospital in Staffordshire, in addition to a salary of up to £190,000.

Ivetsey Bank Hospital is a children’s hospital dealing with complex mental health conditions such as eating disorders, psychosis, bipolar disorder and emerging personality disorders in children aged between 12 and 18. It said sign-on bonuses encouraged the “very best and most suitable candidates” to apply, and allowed “patients and residents to receive the best care”.

Cygnet, a private mental health group, is advertising a £10,000 “welcome bonus” for an “outstanding” consultant psychiatrist at Cygnet Meadowfield, a mental health hospital near Durham, Adzuna said.

Mental health services failing to meet demand, report finds

Funding on mental health services is not keeping pace with demand, a report from the King’s Fund has found.

The report, which takes a 360-degree view of mental health care in England, also found that there are an increasing number of adults and older people in hospital, fewer beds, and increases in length of stay, all of which place pressure on inpatient care. There has been limited progress on reducing the number of people admitted inappropriately to hospitals outside their local area.

While the mental health workforce has expanded, the report says, this has been insufficient to meet demand, and the number of vacancies among NHS mental health providers is higher than for other sectors of the NHS.

It also found that systemic factors, including lack of workforce capacity and poor physical environment, are impacting negatively on quality of care. However, efforts to improve quality are compounded by poor processes for identifying and responding to issues, and a lack of outcome measures to identify good practice.