Why is it so difficult to hire a Psychologist in the UK?

Increasingly, hospitals and other healthcare services such as Addiction Recovery and Rehab programmes are struggling to find Clinical Psychologists in the UK. There are multiple reasons behind this issue, including a nationwide shortage of qualified professionals, a lack of funding for training psychologists with numerous Counselling Psychology Doctorate programmes discontinued across the country, the lengthy qualification process for students and a rise in mental health issues, particularly after the pandemic. 

Here at RESET we can offer you advice on how to hire Psychologists and, more importantly, we can teach you how to keep them. Just email us at admin@theresethealthgroup.com and our team of experts will guide you and answer any questions.

With an insufficient number of psychologists to meet the increasing demand, there is a significant stress on both patients and healthcare providers. The quality of care is being compromised with 44% of psychologists considering their current workload unmanageable

Recruitment agencies themselves are also struggling to find and hire clinical psychologists, with some agencies going as far as to offer cash rewards in exchange for referrals from the general public.

Additionally, there is no pipeline of recruitment of these professionals with hospitals and the NHS relying solely on recruitment agencies and informal networking. 

There is an increasingly higher demand for psychologists and a shortage of professionals

The rise in mental health difficulties makes it hard to hire psychologists as the demand outpaces the supply of qualified professionals. It becomes challenging for organizations and healthcare providers to hire enough psychologists to meet the growing needs.

Even before Covid-19, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom in 2019 were referred to therapy for anxiety and depression across the NHS. Following the pandemic, there was a massive rise in those numbers which placed even more pressure on psychological services. 

The increased demand for psychologists may result in a more competitive job market. Organizations and healthcare facilities seeking to hire psychologists may need to offer attractive compensation packages and benefits to attract and retain qualified professionals. 

Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists states “The high number of people struggling as a result of the pandemic paired with the historic mental health backlog, have created a perfect storm.” 

Despite this ‘perfect storm’, staff numbers within the mental health sector have increased by only 1% a year, leading to the issue of underfunding of psychologist training. 

Funding prioritises Physical Health over mental health when we should be focusing on both 

Historically, mental health services have received less funding compared to physical health services. That happens due to stigma, which leads to misconceptions and discrimination. 

Society has often viewed mental health as a personal weakness rather than a legitimate health concern, which has influenced funding priorities. Additionally, physical health issues are often more visible and immediate in their impact, leading to a greater sense of urgency and demand for funding. 

Physical health problems can result in higher healthcare costs, such as surgeries, medications, and specialized treatments. These costs may be more visible and tangible, making it easier for policymakers and funding bodies to allocate resources accordingly. 

Although efforts have been made to address this disparity in recent years, it remains a challenge to bridge the gap fully. It is essential that we move towards a more holistic approach as an individual’s physical, psychological and social well-being are equally important in creating long-lasting change. 

Traditional talking therapies are not adequately able to tackle the underlying issues associated with mental health disorders including addiction. We must integrate psychological therapy with somatic and environmental interventions into healthcare services. 

This is exactly why we created the RESET programme which resolves the challenge of hiring individual psychologists by providing healthcare services with a team of experts led by a clinical psychologist. Because the whole team are RESET staff, your organisation will no longer worry about recruitment, staff retention, HR, salary, pension schemes, holidays, none of that.

There are few opportunities to qualify as a Psychologist even after extensive education and training

A large majority of undergraduate students refrain from pursuing a career as a psychologist because it is too competitive, it costs too much, it takes too long and it doesn’t pay much. 

Not even the idealistic goal of helping people is fulfilled since professionals – especially in the public sector – might end up disappointed and unable to help their patients given the long waiting lists and piling up admin.

Although psychology is one of the most popular subjects to study with 24,000 students accepted into UK undergraduate courses in 2019, research has found that “the proportion of students not considering a career in psychology or mental health in their final year more than doubled from 9% to 21%.” 

The intensive career route coupled with the low pay has contributed to many taking a step back from this career path, which further contributes to the shortage of psychologists.

One reason why therapy is expensive is that psychologists are as qualified as doctors.

As we discussed in a previous blog titled “Are Psychologists Expensive in Birmingham?”, the road to becoming a psychologist typically takes several years and requires investing time and money into education. In addition, Psychologists have to complete hours of low-paid work to gain experience in the field. In the United Kingdom, this involves:

3-4 year bachelor’s degree → 2 + years of work experience → 1-year masters degree (optional) → 3-year doctoral degree 

Although a percentage of students switch career paths, a large majority continue to pursue their doctoral degrees in psychology. But, there are limited training places and funding. 

This doctorate bottleneck means that, each year, hundreds of individuals with a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree and years of experience are left without a space on the doctorate.

For those who are already qualified and working within a mental health setting, it would be unsurprising if professionals decided to step away from the profession. 

Out of 281 clinical psychologists, 41% reported feeling demoralised, 96% did not consider there had been an improvement in resources to meet the mental health needs in the UK in the past 2 years, and 52% reported being too busy to provide the quality of care they would like. Therefore, the high rates of burnout and staff turnover within the NHS becomes clear, accounting for the number of psychologists who move from the public sector to the private sector. This makes it even more difficult to hire qualified professionals within the public sector. 

Overall, the combination of rigorous education and training requirements, high demand, limited supply, and the other factors we explored before contribute to the difficult to hire psychologists in the public sector. 

As for students looking to qualify but considering whether it’s worth it, there are thousands of nice, competent people within the NHS and the private sector working hard to make things better and to improve services. 

It is worth mentioning that not all is lost and that there are routes for hiring and keeping a clinical psychologist, you can hire a recruitment agency, reach out to your network or search for clinical psychologists on linkedin. There are, of course, limitations to that method given the shortage of psychologists and the great need for such professionals across the board. 

Here at RESET we are resolving the shortage issue by providing clients with a team of experts led by a psychologist which has its benefits including cost reduction. If you have tried everything including recruitment agencies, networking, linkedin searches and are still struggling to hire a psychologist, email us for a free assessment and quote on admin@theresethealthgroup.com.  

Msc Saiyuri Naidu is a Senior Assistant Psychologist at the RESET Health Group and an MSc Clinical Psychology Graduate with a special interest in trauma and how this can affect an individual’s mind and body. 

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