One in 10 posts in specialist mental health services are vacant and Brexit is set to make recruitment more difficult, the Mental Health Network has said.
The stark warning is issued by the organisation, which represents 93% of statutory mental health trusts in England, in its Brexit and mental health briefing.
It warns the two areas which are likely to be most impacted are workforce and research.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said: ‘Currently the health sector is a service under extreme pressure – at the moment one in 10 posts in specialist mental health services are vacant.
“We must ensure that the NHS continues to have a sustainable pipeline of staff in order to deliver services. If we’re unable to recruit personnel from EU countries in the same numbers as we have been able to then it could lead to intolerable strain.
“While we welcome the government’s commitment for an extra 21,000 mental health posts by 2020, it is vital that the sector can continue to recruit these much-needed staff from both EU and non-EU countries post-Brexit.
‘Regionality is also an issue – for example, currently 19% of psychiatry consultants working in the east of England are nationals from EU and EEA countries. Imagine the effect on patients if we’re unable to continue this level of recruitment.’
The network also voiced concern about support for research into mental health from EU programmes, which have also supported collaboration between researchers in the UK and across the EU.
Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme, is currently making almost €80bn of funding available for the 2014-20 period.
UK organisations have received €3.2bn of this, with €420m coming from the health strand of the programme, including significant investment in mental health research.
Mr Duggan said: ‘Our members need reassurance that this funding gap will be closed. If the research is not continued the impact on patients a few years down the line will be immense.
‘The two recent reports from Health Education England – Stepping Forward to 2020/21: Mental Health Workforce Plan for England and Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future: A draft health and care workforce strategy for England to 2027 – set out the strategy for long-term workforce planning in the NHS.
“Implementing the strategies outlined in these reports is key to making sure that the sector remains able to recruit effectively.’