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NHS Workforce: Mental Health

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Health Service are taking to support the mental health of the NHS workforce in England.

My Lords, the NHS workforce is our greatest asset and their mental health is very important. Good mental health enables fulfilling careers and better care for patients. Through our NHS health and well-being programmes, the department is committed to ensuring that staff mental illness is prevented wherever possible and that staff are supported in self-managing their mental health. When needed, staff are offered quick access to psychological interventions.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. As noble Lords will be aware, this is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the Mental Health Foundation is focusing particularly on stress at work. Coming at the end of the winter crisis, which has put all NHS staff and care workers under pressure, and given the pressures put on staff by 100,000 posts in the NHS being unfilled—that is an NHS Improvement figure—I would like to ask the Minister two questions. First, will the Government seek to assess the stress put on NHS staff by the winter crisis when they eventually tell us the financial and patient price that has been paid over the winter period? Secondly, is the Minister aware of the irony that 75% of mental health workers have been stressed at least once a week due to staff turnover leaving them under extra pressure?

My Lords, the Government are committed to putting record levels of funding into mental health. We are totally committed to improving the health and well-being of our staff and to seeing mental health services improve on the ground. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will know, employers are also being supported by the first-ever common framework for NHS staff health and well-being. This was launched this week and includes mental health prevention, self-management and access to psychological therapies. She asked what we are doing about stress. As she will be aware, following the Boorman review, the NHS staff sickness absence rate reduced to 4.13% for the year to December 2017. However, I understand that more needs to be done in this area.

My Lords, what discussions are the Government having with management and senior management at NHS England about front-line workers such as ambulance staff and those working in emergency and medicine? They are under extraordinary pressure, sometimes do not even have time for a cup of tea, and deal with major trauma after major trauma and large numbers of distressed people, yet sometimes feel that their own management will not back them up if something goes wrong.

There is significant pressure on front-line staff. The noble Baroness has not mentioned that there are also issues around harassment, bullying and violence. The Government are doing a significant amount through their frameworks to help and support these front-line staff. Certainly, NHS Improvement is looking to incentivise employers to do more.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the mental health of all NHS staff, and in particular GPs, would be greatly enhanced if the general public would keep their appointments? I understand that some 20% to 30% of appointments are missed. Does the Minister have any thoughts as to how this dreadful problem may be addressed?

My noble friend raises an important point. It is important that patients attempt to keep their appointments, but of course there are sometimes reasons that one cannot. To come back to the workforce and the mental health of GPs, we are setting up an NHS helpline for GPs themselves to help and support them in caring for their health and well-being.

My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the impact and contribution that NHS chaplains make to the mental health of their colleagues?

The right reverend Prelate makes a good point. I know from my own experience of working in the NHS that chaplains play a vital and key role in helping support not only patients but staff when they are doing their duties and need that support.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest. On 12 September, I raised an issue in relation to GPs and the requirement of insurance for their absence on sickness grounds, and the gross discrimination of rogue insurers against those with mental ill-health as opposed to physical disabilities. Will the Minister take another look at the way the ombudsman’s service works? Discrimination is no longer monitored by the regulator, which says that because GPs now employ more than 10 people, an individual case cannot be taken through the ombudsman’s service.

The issue of discrimination and insurance is an important one. I do not have the facts and figures at hand to answer the noble Lord’s question, but I will endeavour to write to him to tell him what we are doing in this area.

My Lords, will the Minister say how the Government intend to respond to the report from the Royal College of Physicians on work and well-being in the NHS, which recommended that financial incentives should be included in NHS contracts to promote staff mental health and well-being?

That is an interesting question. As I have alluded to, NHS Improvement already has a programme to incentivise employers to ensure that they have good workplace strategies in place for well-being and mental health. It is looking to roll that out even further.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister recognises that there is good evidence to show that an efficient occupational health service, run by any major organisation, that is confidential and provides good counselling reduces stress and mental ill-health in its workforce. Does she agree that such a service should be available in every major hospital trust?

Absolutely. Staff survey evidence shows that improving staff health and well-being leads to higher staff engagement, better staff retention and better patient care. I totally agree with the noble Lord.