The vacancy rate for consultant psychiatrists has doubled in six years, leaving gaps in care for children and those with “deadly” eating disorders, according to a new report.
Around one in 10 consultant psychiatric roles is unfilled across the UK, the study from the Royal College of Psychiatrists found, although the figure is far higher in some regions.
The College said plans to improve children’s mental health and eating disorders services are being put at risk by particularly high vacancy rates in these areas.
For eating disorders, the vacancy rate for consultant psychiatric posts is 11% in the East Midlands but stands at 17% in the South East and South West and 33% in the East of England.
And for children’s mental health services, the England vacancy rate is 12% but 15% in the North West and 17% in the East and West Midlands.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said eating disorders “are the deadliest form of mental illness and long waits for treatment can mean the difference between life and death.”
It is calling for more junior doctors to choose psychiatry and for the Government to address the current pensions crisis which means senior doctors are disincentivised to continue working as they get older.
The new study looked at vacancy rates for consultant psychiatric posts, finding that 568 out of 5,730 (9.9%) are currently vacant in England. This figure is up from one in 20 in 2013 (5.2%).
In Scotland, the vacancy rate is 9.7%, 7.5% in Northern Ireland and 12.7% in Wales. Across the UK, the vacancy rate is 9.6%.
The study said that although access to children’s mental health services in England is improving, only 35% of those with mental illness get treatment.
Meanwhile, people with eating disorders can wait up to 41 months for help, with adults waiting on average 30% longer than under-18s.
Thousands of patients are also subject to out-of-area placements – meaning they can be sent hundreds of miles from friends and family for treatment.
Professor Wendy Burn, the president of the College, said: “These findings are very alarming.
“The Government’s plans will fail unless more junior doctors choose psychiatry.
“We know exactly what is needed and action must be taken now to implement practical solutions which will make the NHS a better place to work.
“We must urgently address some of the burning issues around the NHS workforce, such as the pensions crisis and unacceptable levels of work-related stress.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Expanding the mental health workforce is a key priority – we know more work is needed to meet rising demand on services and to ensure patients are getting the best treatment.
“Our Interim NHS People Plan set out immediate actions we will take to fill vacancies and secure the staff we need for the future – including addressing pensions tax concerns, increasing university clinical placements by over 5,000 more and bolstering the workforce through greater international recruitment.”