Mental Health Awareness Week took place from 15 to 21 May, but mental health has made plenty of headlines this month without it. The theme this year - anxiety - hit close to home for many.
The financial strain of the cost of living crisis is driving up anxiety around the UK. 32% of surveyed UK adults said ‘being able to afford to pay the bills had made them feel anxious in the last two weeks.’ 20% said the same about debt, and 15% about job insecurity or unemployment.
Reports came earlier this week that Suffolk Police are scaling back their role in mental health response, following the lead of London's Metropolitan Police. The police are often the default agency for mental health calls, despite officers lacking the training, skills and experience to support people, nor the appropriate accommodation. To put it simply, ‘a police cell is not the best place for someone who needs medical or mental health support.’ While this is true, concerns have been raised by the Suffolk Safeguarding Partnership that ‘there aren't enough mental health specialists around to cover this’ reduction in police support, ‘so it's not going to be easy’.
Finding appropriate accommodation and adequate care for people who need mental health support is sadly not always easy. The CQC has recently judged three child mental health wards at Cheadle Royal, near Manchester, as ‘inadequate’, stating the wards ‘did not always provide safe care’. Montague Court in Birmingham has also been placed under special measures after the CQC found ‘multiple blind spots’ and poor conditions that meant patients ‘weren't safe and were at risk of avoidable harm.’
Chris Dzikiti, the CQC's new director of mental health services, warned he will close services that fail to improve regardless of if they are run by private firms or the NHS.
Strike action has been gaining traction across the NHS over recent months, with nurses and junior doctors taking to the picket lines. Strikes have been causing substantial disruption for patients at a time when waiting lists are already in dire conditions; as a result, many members of the general public are rallying behind medical staff.
The first wave of strikes resulted in a 5% pay increase offer - far below the requested 35% - that the government hoped would appease staff. However, this figure is substantially below what would be necessary to make up for 15 years of below-inflation rises.
In response to the Government’s ‘paltry’ offer, the BMA is ‘calling for a full 72-hour walk out of all junior doctors in England.’ This is scheduled to take place between 07:00 on Wednesday 14 June and 07:00 on Saturday 17 June.
Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the RCN, has warned ministers not to underestimate staff and stated that they ‘are absolutely not going to blink first in these negotiations.’
NHS England workforce plan postponed
The NHS England workforce plan was expected to be unveiled by the end of May, but it has now been pushed back. Steve Barclay cited the pandemic and ‘various things that have been happening in recent years’ as reasons for the postponement.
According to a senior NHS source for The Times, the delays are partially due to the ‘significant investment’ required, with some estimates suggesting costs may run into the tens of billions.
The workforce plan is expected to include an expansion of nurse apprenticeships, which will help combat chronic staffing shortages. However, given the current highly publicised issues around nursing pay, attracting new talent may remain a challenge.
It was recently claimed that the Conservative Party's 2019 manifesto pledge of 40 "brand new" hospitals by 2030 would still be fulfilled. However, when pressed by Laura Kuenssberg, Steve Barclay revealed that a ‘range’ of building work on existing sites would be counted among these 40 projects. A BBC investigation found that building work has yet to begin on 33 of the promised 40 sites.
Five hospitals deemed at risk of collapse are currently taking urgent priority, shunting 8 of the pending projects beyond the 2030 New Hospital Programme deadline.
The good news
And now to wrap up the month with three positive healthcare headlines:
Under a new plan, patients will soon be able to get prescription medication for common conditions (such as earache, sore throat, or urinary tract infections) directly from a pharmacy without needing a GP appointment first. Crucially, ‘almost half a million women will no longer need to speak to a practice nurse or GP to access oral contraception’.
In a world-first, the NHS is set to introduce a new ‘genetic blood-matching test for thousands living with sickle-cell disease or thalassemia that could reduce painful side-effects of transfusion treatments.’ The landmark new programme will ‘help ensure patients receive the best treatment for them, reducing the risk/impact of reactions to donor blood.’
A major NHS trial of the Galleri test, which looks for 50 types of cancer, has recently been concluded with resounding success. The test ‘correctly revealed two out of every three cancers among 5,000 people who had visited their GP with suspected symptoms, in England or Wales.’ While the test remains a work in progress, it successfully pinpointed the original site of cancer in 85% of those positive cases.