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Mental health crisis as UK struggles with number of psychiatrists

Published on 11/09/17 at 10:52am

Research undertaken by the Royal College of Psychiatrists using data from NHS Digital has found that the number of psychiatrists available to people varies wildly by geographical location. Overall numbers of psychiatrists were also found to be low across the country, with levels of consultants England rising by only 1.7% over the past five years.

The reasons behind this were identified by the college as being the result of low numbers of medical students going onto specialise in psychiatry and too few of these becoming consultants. The average figures across the UK were 10 consultant psychiatrists available for every 100,000 people in Scotland, eight for the same number in England and Northern Ireland, and six in Wales.

Beyond these figures, some areas of England, such as Yorkshire, only had five consultants per 100,000 of population. This compares dramatically with London, which has more than 11. This means certain areas of the country have far longer waiting times to be seen by a consultant than other areas, and can lead to recommendation of appointments long-distances away from where patients live.

Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the BBC: "People with a severe mental illness should expect to see a specialist consultant, just as you would for a severe physical illness. The huge variation in consultant psychiatrists across the country means reality is increasingly falling short of our expectations.”

In Scotland, where the numbers of psychiatrists are relatively high in comparison to other regions of the UK, the levels of consultants were still low enough for Gordon Brown to declare a “full blown mental health emergency”.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has reacted by starting a campaign, ‘Choose Psychiatry’, to encourage more students to see the value in pursuing a career in the discipline. For the government’s part, it has suggested that it aims to create 21,000 new posts across mental health services by 2021.

Ben Hargreaves

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