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Staff mental health support faces axe after national funding cut

Published on: 4 Jan 2023

Mental health and wellbeing hubs for NHS and social care staff could be axed within months, as national funding for them is likely to be cut, HSJ has learned.

NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care are understood to be close to ending ring-fenced national funding for the 41 hubs, which were set up in February 2021, at the peak of acute covid pressures and concern about the impact on staff.

Sources told HSJ discussions were ongoing, but that it is likely integrated care systems would need to find funding themselves if they are to continue. Amid tight local finances, it is expected many will be wound down or closed.

This is despite problems with low staff morale, high absence rates and with large numbers of experienced staff thought to be leaving the service.

The British Psychological Society and the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK are calling for continued ring-fenced budgets for the hubs, which were set up in February 2021 with funding for two years. They have written to health and social care secretary Steve Barclay saying the services can improve health and wellbeing, reduce absences, and help retain staff.

HSJ revealed in May that the hubs had received 53,549 contacts from NHS and social care staff by January 2022. NHS Confederation mental health lead Sean Duggan said at the time that he would have expected more use, but called for more investment in them. The Royal College of Psychiatrists said there was “clear demand” but many staff might not be aware of them.

If funding is reduced or stopped, there will be “an immediate cost in human, financial and ethnical terms”, the groups said, calling instead for government to “extend the services’ reach”. 

They point to a study showing 46 per cent of NHS key workers report clinically significant levels of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress and the importance of the expert clinical care which can be provided through the hubs.

One hub staff member told HSJ that some NHS staff had six-month packages of care in place, which may have to be ended halfway through if hubs did not receive ongoing funding. “It is going to really damage the NHS,” the source said.

NHS England said it did not want to comment. The DHSC would not comment on the hubs and would only say: “The wellbeing of NHS staff is paramount which is why we’re ensuring support is in place to meet their needs alongside existing practical support, such as access to helplines, apps, self-help resources and the expansion of NHS mental health services, backed by £2.3 billion a year by 2024.

 “We will continue to work closely with NHS England and system leaders to ensure NHS staff mental health remains a priority and will publish a long-term workforce plan this year to recruit and retain more staff.”