The Scottish Government has been accused of being “in the dark” over its own mental health recruitment figures.
Action 15 of the Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 says that the Government will “increase the workforce to increase access to dedicated mental health professionals” in all emergency departments, GP practises, prisons and police custody suites.
It offers reassurance that the government will increase additional investment to £35m for 800 mental health workers in these settings – the Scottish Lib Dems have now cast doubt over these claims.
Responding to questioning from party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton to confirm the number of mental health professionals in prisons and A&E departments, minister for mental wellbeing Kevin Stewart said the government “does not hold data on the mental health workforce [in prisons]”.
He added that “data on the number of mental health workers in A&E departments is not centrally collected”.
It comes after justice secretary Keith Brown also confirmed that the government “does not hold data on the mental health workforce in police custody suites.”
“We need to ensure we have the right workforce with the necessary specialist skills and training, to provide care to some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Dr Pavan Srireddy, policy lead and consultant psychiatrist at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland.
“In claiming that the Scottish Government does not have data on the number of staff in these key settings, ministers are revealing that they are either completely in the dark about whether they are meeting their own targets or unwilling to admit they have failed,” said Cole-Hamilton.
Claiming it had been clear “for several years” that the targets laid out in the Mental Health Strategy would not be met, he demanded for an “honest acknowledgement” of the scale of the issue, followed by a major recruitment drive in order to deliver the support people need.
Dr Srireddy added: “Mental health services are heading into winter with unprecedented staffing shortages and an increase in demand due to the effects of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.”
“As psychiatrists working on the frontline, we’d absolutely support the call for a national approach to recruitment and the urgent need to prioritise this.”
“Our commitment to recruit an additional 800 mental health staff to frontline roles across Scotland was clear – and we have not only achieved this, but exceeded it,” said the minister for mental wellbeing.
Stewart added: “The progress towards this target has been consistently and routinely publicly reported – reflecting the local decisions and priorities of integrated joint boards for their areas. We would hope that everyone would welcome these additional posts in these key settings.
“As well as this increasing staffing in community settings we have increased mental health staffing across the NHS.
“We’re also supporting the recruitment of 320 additional staff in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services by 2026, increase capacity for cases by over 10,000.”