Mental health workers ‘overworked, understaffed and demoralised’

A survey of mental health workers examined how staffing shortages are affecting their work and mental health.

Kizzy Bass
10 January 2020
Cutbacks in mental health

Increasing workloads and underfunding is leading services at “breaking point”.

A survey carried out by the British Medical Association (BMA) in collaboration with The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), asked 1,000 mental health care professionals how staffing shortages are affecting their work and mental health.


The results laid bare the terrible impact the shortage of mental health staff is having in the face of rising demand, leaving staff at “breaking point” and patients failing to get the care they need. 

It also revealed that over half the respondents felt they were too busy to provide the care they would like to be able to give, with 44% saying that they felt demoralised and felt their workload was unmanageable.

Doctors also raised concerns over the level of staffing on mental health wards with 47% saying there was a shortage of one or more medical staff, while half were concerned about the skill mix.

Very serious problems.

Responding to the report, BMA mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski said: “This study highlights the very serious problems facing the mental health sector with a workforce near to breaking point.”


“Mental healthcare accounts for 25% of all healthcare activity and yet our funding settlement stands at around 14% of healthcare spending at best. This is not right and has to improve.

“There must be a step-change in the Government’s approach to ensure we move beyond just ‘parity of esteem’ for physical and mental health.

“The same level of resources must be made available in mental health so that the vulnerable patients who depend on these services can expect the same level of care, and the same level of outcomes as they do in physical healthcare. Anything less is morally unacceptable.”

Too busy to deliver care.

Catherine Gamble, Lead for Mental Health at Royal College of Nursing, said: “Shifts are consistently one or more staff members down leaving the rest upset that they can’t provide the care patients deserve and worried that lives could be put at risk if this continues.


“With so many too busy to deliver care, nurses aren’t able to spend time with families, develop therapeutic relationships and implement psychosocial interventions.

“Unless there is urgent investment in growing the nursing workforce, the pressures will continue to grow to the point where it will no longer be possible to attract nurses to work in the NHS, and parity of esteem for physical and mental health remains a goal yet to be realised.”  

Following the survey, the BMA has set out a number of recommendations including doubling mental health funding from clinical commissioning groups. They also warn that many of the Government’s mental health workforce commitments are not on track to be met.

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