Young people’s psychiatric workforce gaps ‘still high’

Monday 7th October 2019

More than one in six positions for young people’s psychiatrists in Scotland’s NHS are empty because of recruitment difficulties, according to a Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) workforce census.

Among the wider psychiatric workforce one in ten posts cannot be filled and the number of vacancies has risen by half in the last two years.

Currently, 70 psychiatric doctor positions out of a total of 740 are vacant.

RCPsych says “much more needs to be done” to encourage junior medics to choose psychiatry.

Around three in ten young people wait longer than the recommended 18 weeks to see specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

21-year-old Charlie MacKenzie waited eight years to get the specialist mental health treatment she needed.

The Glaswegian, who has autism, borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, was rejected for treatment aged seven until eventually being accepted eight years later.

She said: “My mental health is better than it was once was, but I still have my ups and downs. If I had been seen quicker way back when this all started, then I might have not had the same mental health problems. We urgently need more psychiatrists, especially within CAMHS.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the findings are “deeply disturbing” at a time of a “mental health epidemic”.

The body says the number of children and teenagers seeking support has increased by almost a third since 2013 as stigma about mental health lessens.

They said: “This is clearly putting pressure on already stretched and under-resourced services and the Scottish Government and other relevant organisations clearly need to do more to encourage entry into consultant positions.

“Clearly more must also be done on ensuring our children and young people do not experience mental health problems in the first place, enhancing their mental wellbeing and resilience through prevention and early intervention services.”

Professor John Crichton, consultant forensic psychiatrist and chair of RCPsych in Scotland, said: “These findings are very alarming. We have a workforce crisis on our hands and need more junior doctors to choose psychiatry.

Prof Crichton warned many psychiatrists are nearing retirement age and junior doctors need to spend at least six years training before becoming consultants.  

“Simply put,” he said, “the supply does not meet the demand and that’s why we’re encouraging young doctors to choose psychiatry and help get our workforce up to speed so vital mental health services can improve.

“We welcome the recent Scottish Government announcements on foundation year posts and increasing Scottish domiciled medical students, but much more needs to be done.”

The Scottish Goverment says it is increasing funding for staff working in CAMHS services.

A spokesperson said: “While there remain unfilled consultant psychiatrist vacancies in a number of health boards, over the past five years we have increased the number of posts and in 2018 we saw a significant improvement in recruitment to psychiatric specialities. There has also been an increase of 15% (11.8 whole time equivalent) in the number of CAMHS psychiatrists since this additional funding came into place in March 2016."

They added more than £50m is being invested to improve access to mental health support and recruit additional workers.