A UK-wide shortage of psychiatrists is coercing children with eating disorders and other distressed young people to wait longer for NHS care, it has been claimed.
A prime workforce survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that about 1 in 10 consultant psychiatrist posts are vacant and the rate of unfilled jobs has doubled in the last six years.
Moreover, services for those with eating disorders, under-18s with mental health issues and mothers struggling after the birth of a child are facing particular shortages.
Prof Wendy Burn, the college’s president, said the findings were “very upsetting” and raised suspicions as to whether ambitious government plans to improve mental healthcare would be implemented and taken action upon.
The report cautions that mounting gaps in the psychiatry workforce “come at a time when demand for mental healthcare is soaring, with a scarcity of psychiatrists contributing to the prolonged waits for treatment many patients face. The impact on patients’ lives can be devastating, including divorce, debt and job losses.”
9.9% of full-time consultant posts in psychiatry in England are untaken, almost double the 5.2% which were unfilled in 2013, according to the college’s biennial workforce research report. In all 568 posts are unoccupied out of what ought to be a total workforce of 5,730 consultant psychiatrists.
Vacancies are prevalent and widespread in England in key areas of the mental healthcare service, which the government and the NHS long-term plan have promised to work upon as part of a drive to cut waiting times, increase the numbers who get assistance and give mental health “parity of esteem” with physical healthcare.