RCPCH responds to NHS Practitioner Health announcement

RCPCH has responded to news about the NHS Practitioner Health announcement and calls for the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff to be a priority focus for NHS decision makers into the future.

On 13 April 2024 NHS Practitioner Health, a free, confidential specialist mental health service provider for NHS staff in England, announced that it would no longer be accepting new registrations for secondary care doctors and staff to get support with their mental health needs. This was due to an NHS England commissioning process. 

By 6pm on 15 April 2024 and following concerns raised by clinicians and organisations around the country, further funding was found, and the service was made available to new patients for a further 12-month period. 

In response Professor Steve Turner, RCPCH President said: 

The NHS Practitioner Service has always been a vital service for clinicians – and I know it has helped so many of our members. It is of course good news that further funding has been found for new patients in secondary care over the next 12 months. 

However, we are deeply concerned at the processes that lead to this decision. The mental health of our NHS staff should be at the fore of NHS England’s policy and decision making. Decommissioning an important support service with very little notice and without engaging NHS staff or the representative bodies sends a negative message out to its hardworking staff.

We hear from our members that mental health concerns, including burnout, have been a particular problem during and post-pandemic, and the evidence available shows that burnout rates continue to rise. Working in an NHS environment with inadequate mental health support, and the risk of burnout, is a serious issue and will have implications for not just the workforce, but also for our patients. The NHS centrally has already noted the problems it has with the retention of healthcare staff – it needs fully funded support mechanisms for those staff.

We recognise that NHS England is now undertaking a review of the staff support offer for mental health across all staff groups - and considering long term sustainable options. This is most welcome, and we call on NHS England to engage actively with professional bodies on this important issue and consider long term sustainable options. It is our overriding view that mental health support services for staff should be expanded, prioritised and should never be considered an after- thought, and we will be highlighting this in our ongoing engagement with them.

To add, for any paediatricians who may be reading this and concerned about their own mental health and considering the options available, we have published a list of resources that may be of use on this website. We will update this as we know more.

More about NHS Practitioner Health can be found on their website.