Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS England does U turn on staff mental health service after outcry by doctors

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: (Published 16 April 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q874
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

NHS England has reversed its decision to halt new sign-ups to the NHS Practitioner Health (NHSPH) programme, a mental health and addiction service that specialises in treating healthcare professionals, after doctors expressed “dismay and disbelief.”

A notice on the NHSPH website issued on 12 April said that NHS England was reviewing the “staff support offer for mental health across all staff groups to consider long term sustainable options.” During this review NHS Egland had said that no new referrals would be accepted from secondary care staff.1

However, after an outcry among healthcare leaders and doctors, including through an open letter reportedly signed by 15 000 members of staff,2 NHS England announced that it will now extend the scheme to cover new referrals for the next year while the review is conducted.

NHS England’s chief workforce officer, Navina Evans, said, “Following discussions with NHS Practitioner Health on their current service for secondary care doctors, dentists, and senior staff, we have jointly agreed to extend the service by 12 months, for both existing and new service users, while we carry out a wider review to ensure that all NHS staff groups have the mental health support they need.”

The primary care element of the scheme had already been renewed for another year, until 31 March 2025.

The BMA and the Medical Protection Society had been among those calling for NHS England to allow new registrations during the review process. The BMA’s workforce lead, Latifa Patel, said, “Doctors are more burnt out and under pressure than ever before, and now is not the time to cut mental health support. With the recent cutting of NHS staff and wellbeing hubs, doctors already have fewer and fewer places to turn to.”

Medical Protection Society medical director Rob Hendry said that his organisation regularly referred vulnerable NHS staff members who were dealing with medicolegal issues to the NHSPH.

“We see first hand how their commitment and insight can de-escalate mental health concerns and help to keep these healthcare professionals in work, caring for patients,” Hendry said.

NHSPH was lifeline

Speaking to The BMJ about his own experience, consultant paediatrician Ravi Jayaram said, “I have had personal experience of using both NHSPH and in-house services and am happy to admit openly that without NHSPH I probably wouldn’t be still working now.”

Jayaram, one of the doctors who raised concerns about Lucy Letby to NHS management,3 said that NHS England’s earlier decision to cut NHSPH’s funding showed “not only how little NHS England values the psychological wellbeing of its staff but also how little it understands the impact of this on its staff.”

“This is yet another example of NHS England knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing,” Jayaram had said.

He added that in-house occupational health services were under-resourced and unable to offer the tailored care that NHSPH does. Additionally, many staff do not feel comfortable raising concerns to a service that is supervised by their employer, he said.