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Mental health services are failing to meet rising demand, according to a new TUC report published today (Monday).

The report – which features new analysis by the NHS Support Federation – shows that in the last five years the number of patients accessing mental health services in England has risen by a third (540,000).

However, over the same period the number of mental health nurses, doctors and beds in the country has fallen.

The research reveals that:

  • In 2013 there was 1 mental health doctor for every 186 patients accessing services. In 2018 this ratio had worsened to 1 for every 253 patients.
  • In 2013 there was 1 mental health nurse for every 29 of patients accessing services. In 2018 this had worsened to 1 for every 39 patients.
  • The number of beds for mental health patients in England has slumped by nearly 3,000 (-13%) since 2013.

The picture varies across English regions. However, in every part of the country patient demand is outstripping available beds and staff leaving services over-stretched.

Mental health provision by English region


change in beds

change in doctors

change in nurses

change in demand









East of England









East Midlands


















North East









North West









South East









South West









West Midlands









Yorks and Humber


















Source: NHS Digital

The TUC says the unprecedented squeeze on health service funding and health workers’ pay are key reasons behind the fall in capacity. 

NHS mental health trusts have seen their income cut by more than a £100million in real-terms since 2012. 

And the clampdown on pay in the NHS has hit staffing levels, with more than 1 in 10 mental health posts currently vacant.

Unions are calling on the Chancellor to use this month’s budget to:

  • Increase Department of Health spending to 5% – the amount the IFS and Health Foundation say is required to achieve significant improvements in health outcomes.
  • Reverse the cuts to local authority and school funding that have also impacted on local mental and public health services, particularly for children.

Mental illness is estimated to cost the UK economy between £74bn and £99bn a year.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister promised to tackle the ‘burning injustice’ of inadequate treatment for mental illness. But years of underfunding has created a staffing crisis in mental health services and a huge shortage of beds.

“This month’s Budget must provide urgent funding to the NHS, schools and councils. They desperately need more resources to help people struggling with their mental health.”

Editors note

- A copy of the report can be found here:

- The analysis covers all of England’s NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs).  These are the 44 areas where local NHS organisations and councils draw up proposals to improve health and care in the areas they serve.

- Of England’s 44 NHS STPs:

  • More than three-quarters (36) have seen a fall in the number of available beds for people struggling with their mental health.
  • More than half (23) have seen a fall in the number of mental health nurses (including both in-patient and community nurses).
  • Half (22) have seen a fall in the number of doctors working with mental health patients.
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