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Friday 03 November 2017

Therapy services facing workforce crisis

By MiP

Dr Elizabeth Cotton:

Mental health therapy services in the UK could collapse within a decade without urgent action to boost recruitment and improve working conditions for mental health staff, according to new academic research.

A survey of 1,500 mental health workers by the Surviving Work website, in association with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, found that 21% of therapists were working in unpaid jobs and more than half had to take on more than one job to make ends meet.

The findings present “a bleak prognosis for earning a living as a therapist in the UK” said Dr Elizabeth Cotton, founder of Surviving Work and a specialist in workplace mental health at Middlesex University, who led the research. “Job insecurity is a major theme with many therapists on precarious contracts, and a rapid rise in self-employment,” she added.

Unpaid working

Unpaid therapy work was now widespread across the NHS and the not-for-profit sector, Cotton explained. “If trained professional therapists cannot earn a decent living, when the current 21% of psychotherapists who are 57 years or older retire, who will provide services for the one in four of us who experience mental health problems?” she said.

Mental health workers taking part in the survey said that only 25% of concerns about patient safety were resolved by employers, a figure that falls to 8% for complaints about poor working conditions.

Cotton warned that the ageing workforce, poor pay and working conditions, and the lack of promotion opportunities for senior professionals mean “the sector will over the next ten years face a crisis of developing experienced and qualified therapists to manage the mental health crisis in the UK”.

Current system “unsustainable”

The research, which was supported by several trade unions including the RCN and UNISON, included in-depth interviews with 68 mental health professionals. They revealed widespread concerns that the current mental health system is unsustainable.

“It’s a bad time to have a mental health problem as well as working in it. It’s the worst I’ve ever known. It’s just not sustainable emotionally for people,” said one senior therapist.

“There is a lot of staff sickness absence, everywhere I look I see burnt out therapists, trying to survive, waiting and praying for change,” added another.

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