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NHS England U-turns on decision to cut practitioner mental health service

by Eliza Parr
16 April 2024

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NHS England has U-turned on plans to cut funding for a free mental health support service available to health professionals following strong criticism from the medical profession, and will allow new registrations from hospital doctors for another year.

On Friday, Practitioner Health said that NHS England is ‘undertaking a review’ for the support offer across all NHS staff groups, to consider ‘long term sustainable options’.

This meant that the service would not accept any new registrations from secondary care staff from today, but would continue to treat existing patients.

The decision was strongly criticised by doctors, including the BMA and the Doctors’ Association UK, who said it was ‘short-sighted’ and ‘cruel’.

By the end of yesterday, NHS England changed its position, agreeing to ‘extend the service’ for secondary care health professionals by 12 months while a review is carried out.

It confirmed that the service will remain in place for GPs and other primary care staff for another 12 months until the end of March next year.

NHS England chief workforce officer Dr Navina Evans said in a statement posted on the NHS Practitioner Health website that: ‘Following discussions with 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.’

Professor Dame Clare Gerada, an ambassador for NHS Practitioner Health who is also a GP, said she was ‘delighted’ that the extension was agreed and that the service will ‘work closely’ with NHS England on the review.

The service provides treatment to healthcare professionals who are mentally unwell, supporting them to remain in or return safely to work. 

Last year, it was reported that around 5% of GPs in England were accessing mental health services via NHS Practitioner Health – despite the service only intending to reach between 0.5% and 1% of GPs when it began nationwide in 2016.

A version of this story was first published by our sister publication Pulse