Record rise in NHS mental health sickness 

Unite raises alarm over closure of drop-in services for staff

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Unite has raised the alarm over the looming closure of 40 mental health and wellbeing hubs that provide support for under pressure NHS staff.

The warning comes as figures released on Thursday (June 29) show that NHS sickness absences have reached record highs, with mental health problems accounting for the biggest proportion of causes at nearly a quarter of all absences.

The hubs were set up by NHS England in February 2021 to ensure that workers had access to free and confidential local mental health services. Government funding for these hubs ended on 31 March 2023, however, with little or no consultation or conversation about the ongoing need for their services.

Unite is concerned that the closures come at a time when NHS staff are under increasing pressure due to understaffing and mounting workloads.

According to the World Health Organisation, the long term mental health impacts upon healthcare workers from working through the pandemic are also yet to be fully felt, making the hubs even more necessary.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “There is evidence emerging from the hubs to show just how helpful they are. It is wilful neglect to abruptly discontinue the funding, as if the impact of the pandemic is over. It isn’t. On top of that, NHS workers are under huge amounts of pressure, as the recent increase in sickness absences show, so staff need access to this type of support.”

Unite the union has members across the NHS, including applied psychology, doctors, nursing, health visitors and paramedics.

Dr Khadj Rouf, chair of Unite Applied Psychology national committee added, “NHS staff look after the public and did an incredible job during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though hundreds of NHS staff paid for it with their lives. Many were traumatised in the line of their work. It is only right that we look after them.

“We fully endorse the British Psychological Society (BPS) and Association of Clinical Psychologists UK (ACP-UK) campaigns taking place to save the wellbeing hubs and their vital work. There should be proper public consultation about any proposed closures, as these services provide clinical support to staff, and this directly impacts on the ability to run services.

“We urge people to lobby their local MPs about what is happening. We call on the government to urgently and properly invest in wellbeing hubs. Staff need these services now more than ever.”

By Ryan Fletcher