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Shortage of psychiatrists is threatening lives, we need government action

Shortage of psychiatrists is threatening lives, we need government action
3 min read

The Government must take action to address the shortage of psychiatrists, contributing to lengthy NHS waiting times and having devastating effects on people reaching out for support, writes Baroness Parminter.

A shortage of psychiatrists is causing people with eating disorders and other mental health issues to wait longer for NHS care.

Vacancy rates in psychiatric posts have doubled in the last six years.

One in ten posts are now unfilled across the UK, according to figures recently identified in a workforce survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The workforce is now widely recognised as one of the NHS’s biggest risks over the next ten years, with an increasing reliance on recruiting expensive locums and doctors from abroad, with half of new doctors in 2017/18 being trained outside the UK.

Services particularly affected include those for eating disorders.

BEAT, the leading eating disorder charity confirmed that eating disorder services are struggling to fill vacancies. Vacancies can lead to lengthy waiting times for treatments, the effects of which can be devastating or even life-threatening, particularly given the high mortality rates of anorexia.

Earlier this year, a report published by the Royal College found that people with eating disorders can wait up to 41 months for treatment, with adults waiting on average 30% longer than under-18s. With a teenage daughter who suffers from anorexia I know how crucial it is we recruit more mental health professionals.

When someone takes the brave step to reach out for support they need that help as quickly as possible.

The Government’s NHS Long Term Plan pledges to give parity of esteem for mental health with physical health. To start to address this challenge the Government has increased the number of medical school places by 1,500 and opened five new medical schools across England.

However, medical schools are still oversubscribed with, on average, eight applications from suitable students being rejected for every application accepted. To get a sustainable supply of psychiatrists for the future the Government should commit to double the number of places in UK medical schools to 15,000 over the next ten years. Allocating those extra places to schools with plans to ensure the best undergraduate experience in psychiatry as well as incentivising more junior doctors to choose psychiatry would make a real difference. 

Liberal Democrats recently announced bold plans to increase the number of psychiatrists by at least 4,000 by 2028, more than covering the number of posts vacant.

Moreover, we would legislate for a statutory duty making the Secretary of State responsible for producing an annual workplace report and plan. This is on top of our commitment to raise the basic, higher and additional rates of Income Tax by 1p, to be spent on NHS and social care services, ringfencing additional investment in mental health.

There is no silver bullet to deliver parity of esteem for mental health with physical health. But for those of us wanting in particular to see people with eating disorders receive the care they need, having enough trained medical health professionals is vital and requires more Government action now.


Baroness Parminter is Liberal Democract Member of the House of Lords. 

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