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Fifty-five extra full time mental health officers (MHOs) are needed to meet shortfalls in staffing, a new report published by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) reveals. All but eight of Scotland’s local authorities reported an MHO shortfall in the 2018 Mental Health Officers’ Report published today.

MHOs carry out statutory duties in relation to mental health legislation and shortfalls in staffing could result in delays to people accessing services, appropriate treatment and care and hospital discharges. 

Lorraine Gray, SSSC Chief Executive said: ‘It is significant that more local authorities reported a shortfall of MHOs in 2018 compared to the previous year and that the equivalent of 55 full time MHOs would need to be recruited to meet that shortfall.

‘The report also shows an increasing proportion of MHOs are aged over 55, so we need to make sure that enough social workers are undertaking the MHO qualification, so we can address both the shortfall and future demand.

‘It’s good to see in the report, however, there is an increasing number of MHOs aged under 40 so that should help with succession planning for the significant proportion of MHOs expected to retire over the next 10 years.

‘Our MHO report contains key data about the workforce in Scotland to help local authorities, Scottish Government and others plan the future workforce. I’m pleased that data from our workforce intelligence team makes a considerable contribution to this work.’ 

Key points from this year’s MHO report 

  • There were 730 filled MHO posts in 2018. 
  • 84 people left 87 MHO posts during 2018, with 32 of these post holders resigning (over a third of all leavers in 2018). 
  • There were 13 fewer filled MHO posts in 2018 than in 2017 which is equivalent to a drop of 1.7%. 
  • More local authorities are reporting an MHO shortfall with 24 from 32 reporting a shortfall. 
  • The average reported (mean) shortfall was 81.9 hours per week for each local authority that reported one. This is equivalent to 55 full time MHOs across those authorities. 
  • Local authorities across Scotland reported a total of 22 unfilled exclusive MHO vacancies with 18 MHOs currently unavailable. This is an increase of eight vacancies and five more unavailable MHOs from our 2017 figures of 14 and 13 respectively. 
  • An increasing proportion of the MHO workforce is aged over 55. In 2014 it was 32% of MHOs, in 2018 this figure had risen to 38%. The average (mean) age of all MHOs is 50. There has also been an increase in MHOs under 40 from 13% in 2014 to 18% in 2018. Correspondingly the percentage of MHOs who fall between these ranges (ages 40 to 54) has decreased. 
  • The downward trend in the average weekly hours worked per post is continuing. This figure was 17.2 in 2016, 16.1 in 2017 and it decreased further in 2018 to 15.7. 
  • Since 2016 the number of cover MHOs has decreased. In 2016 there were 99, 76 in 2017 and 71 in 2018. 

Our role supporting MHOs

We approve and quality assure the three university MHO programmes in Scotland, which includes feedback from people who use mental health services to inform improvements in the delivery of MHO education and practice.

We also work in partnership with the national MHO forum, Social Work Scotland and the Scottish Association of Social Workers to develop resources to support practice including learning in relation to new mental health legislation and the annual MHO study day.

Download the 2018 Mental Health Officers Report here.