The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been forced to re-write parliamentary records after making a false claim about mental health.
Speaking on World Mental Health Day, he told MPs: “We’ve got 30,000 more people working in mental health today than we had when [Labour] left office.”
He repeated this again, saying: “We have 30,000 more professionals working in mental health than when my Government came into office.”
But when questioned by FactCheck, the Department for Health admitted that Mr Hunt’s figure includes all professionally qualified clinical NHS staff in England – not just those working in mental health.
They said the official transcript of parliamentary businesses will be edited to rectify this.
The Department for Health told FactCheck: “This was an error and we will be correcting Hansard accordingly.”
The truth about mental health staffing
This is not an exact science. It’s impossible to put a precise number of how many NHS staff cover mental health. Mainly, that’s because a lot of staff cover cover multiple areas.
However, using the latest data from NHS Digital, we have tried to find a more accurate figure than Mr Hunt’s.
To do this, we included psychiatric doctors and mental health nurses, as well as all staff working in clinical psychology, psychotherapy, occupational therapy, multi-therapies and art, music and drama therapies.
In March 2017, there were 79,985 full-time equivalent people working in these areas. That compares to 79,293 in March 2010, when the Conservatives came into government.
That’s an increase of just 692 people – 0.87 per cent over seven years.
In contrast, Mr Hunt incorrectly claimed that the numbers were more than 43 times higher than this.
What’s more, although there has been a small increase in mental health staffing overall, this has largely been driven by an expansion in psychotherapy. Most other areas have seen staff numbers fall or stay the same.
Most notably, mental health nurse levels have dropped by more than 5,000 since 2010.
Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at the Nuffield Trust, told FactCheck: “While basically a simple error, this does highlight that actually mental health has largely been left out of even the slow expansion seen in other NHS staff groups.
“As with many areas of the NHS, staffing is as much of a problem as funding but can be overlooked.
“If the Government wants to make rhetoric about improving mental health a reality, they will need to address longstanding issues here, such as the failure to get enough junior doctors to go into psychiatry.”
Earlier this year, Mr Hunt promised to create 21,000 new mental health posts in the NHS by 2021. At the time, he said: “We know we need to do much more to attract, retain and support the mental health workforce of the future.”