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Lib Dems demand action to fill ‘gaping holes’ in mental health staffing

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said there are ‘gaping holes’ in mental health staffing (Peter Byrne/PA)
Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said there are ‘gaping holes’ in mental health staffing (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for action after new figures revealed 14.5% of consultant psychiatrist positions in Scotland are vacant.

Released through freedom of information requests from the party, the statistics show more than 50% of consultant positions at NHS Tayside have not been filled.

The health board has 42.76 whole-time equivalent posts for consultant psychiatrists, according to the release, with 23.06 vacant.

NHS Highland has the second highest number of vacancies with 36.8% of jobs unoccupied, according to the figures.

In Scotland as a whole, 64.53 whole-time equivalent posts are vacant, compared to 444.47 that are in place.

However, the number will be higher due to NHS Highland divulging total posts, as opposed to their whole-time equivalent, meaning the board’s figures are missing from the final total.

The figures also show that NHS Orkney does not have a permanent consultant psychiatrist in place.

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The gaping holes in mental health staffing are incredibly harmful to patients and staff. It is crystal clear that the situation demands immediate action.

Alex Cole-Hamilton in Holyrood
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called for action (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

“This is not an effect of the pandemic. Covid only accentuated all the pre-existing gaps created by 15 years of SNP mismanagement and failure in training and retaining the workforce.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have championed the cause of our national mental health for several years, negotiating £120 million extra in last year’s budget.

“But the reality is that there is serious work still to be done. It’s especially hard to clear the terrible waiting lists when staff are telling us they are exhausted, begging the question why SNP and Green MSPs voted down my proposal for an urgent burnout prevention strategy.

“As part of my proposals to give New Hope for Health, I’ve set out proposals to ramp up training because we need many more mental health professionals in every part of the system – from early intervention to this more complex care.

“That’s the scale of ambition that Scotland needs if everyone is to get access to support swiftly and close to home.”

In response, mental health minister Kevin Stewart said: “Our commitment to recruit an additional 800 mental health staff to frontline roles across Scotland was clear – we are delighted that we have not only achieved this, but exceeded it.

“As well as this increasing staffing in community settings, we have increased mental health staffing across the NHS. We’re increasing our direct mental health investment, including funding 1,000 additional staff for GP practices to deliver access to a multi-disciplinary mental health and wellbeing service by 2026.

“We’re also providing sufficient funding to support recruitment of 320 additional staff in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services by 2026, increasing capacity for cases by over 10,000.”

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