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Putting a price on doctors’ mental health

Putting a price on doctors’ mental health

Editor Jaimie Kaffash considers the future for NHS mental health support for healthcare professionals

This past weekend didn’t go well for NHS England. The news came out on Friday evening that they had withdrawn funding for the NHS Practitioner Health programme, which supports doctors and other healthcare staff with mental health problems, to prevent secondary care staff from registering. By Monday evening, they had U-turned.

In fairness, NHSE chief strategy officer Chris Hopson did explicitly state that general practice was a separate case, with the ‘dispersed nature’ of primary care ensuring that the programme would continue to run for GPs and their staff.

But make no mistake – this would very much be subject to change. Because, while the reversal of the decision is obviously good news, it was indicative of how low down doctors’ and NHS staff’s mental health comes on their list of priorities.

This is typically short sighted. Apart from the effect on the individuals involved, NHS bosses will surely be aware of the oxygen mask rule: prioritise your own wellbeing before seeing to that of others. A burnt out doctor, or one whose empathy is drained due to moral injury, is going to provide worse care. To talk in the government’s language, the relatively small amount of funding being put into staff wellbeing will provide great value for patient care.

I am aware that I have fallen into the trap of deprioritising doctors’ mental health myself. Because we shouldn’t just hand wave away the effect of the lack of mental health support services on the individuals – after all, doctors and staff can be patients too. Of course, mental illness has a number of causes, and should never be pinned down to a single one. But the current pressures faced by doctors do have an effect on mental health. The NHS has a duty of care to healthcare professionals, especially when the conditions that it as an organisation has created are contributing to their staff’s poor mental health.

The overarching problem is an underfunding of the NHS – worse than average mental health is a symptom. I’m also aware this programme can only help so far. But even the notion of removing funding will have a disproportionate effect on doctors, patients and staff good will.

This may have been a false alarm and there is an element of kicking the can down the road with the reversal of their decision. It will likely be a Labour government that will have to make a decision on funding from April 2025.

I don’t have much confidence in them committing to the service, keen as they are to show how much they support austerity (other than defence spending). But here is my advice: instead of cutting back on mental health provision, the government should instruct NHSE to fund fast-track care to NHS clinicians, for both physical and mental health problems, to get them back in service asap – given the current staffing crises.

This will help all patients – including those who work within the NHS, and those who don’t. 

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @jkaffash or email him at