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NHSE U-turns over axing staff mental health support

Published on: 15 Apr 2024

NHS England has extended a national mental health support service for NHS staff by 12 months, pending a review, just three days after announcing it was axing it.

The NHS Practitioner Health programme, which began nationally in 2019, announced late on Friday that new registrations for secondary staff were being halted from Monday, 15 April

An announcement on X, formerly known as Twitter, said: “New secondary care patients will be signposted to alternative sources of support, including your GP, occupational health departments and organisational employee assistance programmes.”

However, after a huge backlash from numerous healthcare leaders and organisations, on Monday afternoon, NHSE chief workforce officer Navina Evans said: “Following discussions with Practitioner Health on their current service for secondary care doctors, dentists and senior staff, we have jointly agreed to extend the service by 12 months, for both existing and new service users, while we carry out a wider review.”

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins implied she had pressed NHSE into the reversal. She said on X: “I have heard the concerns of NHS staff in recent days. You deserve to have the right support. After a meeting with [NHSE] this morning, I am pleased that this important service will be maintained for both existing and new patients.”

Clinicians of all levels, trade unions and NHS Providers were among those criticising the move, and many staff shared personal stories of how the service had helped them or their colleagues.

An open letter to Ms Atkins and NHSE chief Amanda Pritchard amassed more than 15,000 signatures over the weekend.

It comes amid huge pressure to make drastic financial savings in 2024-25 within NHSE nationally and in local systems and trusts, all of which are thought to be facing deficits in their draft plans. Total NHS funding is roughly flat in real terms in 2024-25.

On Friday, NHSE confirmed funding was stopping for new patients among secondary care staff; but said the NHS Practitioner Health service would remain available for primary care until at least March 2025; and would continue to help existing patients in secondary care.

An updated statement was later sent over the weekend, which stated NHSE would work with the programme on how new requests would be managed from 15 April while the review is completed.

Professor Dame Clare Gerada, a prominent London-based GP, who helped set up the service, thanked people for their response on X. She added: “We will work closely with [NHSE] to help in any way we can with the review.”