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GP surgeries to focus on mental health alongside physical

12:00am | & Health

With increased focus on mental health and breaking down the stigma around it, an initiative is under way which could see mental health therapists become the norm in GP surgeries.

Health chiefs have drafted new guidance encouraging doctors to incorporate mental health therapists in their practices, bringing mental and physical health services together under one roof.

These new therapists will be integrated into primary care teams and focus on common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Underlining the strong links between physical and mental wellbeing, they will particularly deal with patients with a long-term physical health condition – such as diabetes, respiratory or heart problems – which also impacts on their mental health.

Evidence suggests nine out of 10 adults with mental health problems are supported in primary care. Broadening the range of services for patients means local health services are better equipped to deal with patients’ physical and mental health needs in a ‘joined-up’ way.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health said: “Joining up talking therapy services in primary care settings is another big step forward for our patients and a key plank in putting mental health at the centre of the long-term plan for the NHS. We are on track to deliver 3,000 therapists in primary care, with over 800 in surgeries at the end of last year, and this handy guidance should convince those practices that are yet to take the plunge of the benefits.”

Under the guidance issued to doctors, in-house mental health therapists are expected to be full members of the primary healthcare team – receiving self-referrals from patients as well as from GPs, clinical pharmacists, practice nurses and healthcare assistants. They should:

  • Attend practice meetings
  • Provide specialist advice and support to ensure mental health is taken on-board and considered as part of treatment and care in the surgery
  • Link in with clinicians across other mental and physical health services on behalf of the patient and practice

This closer way of working usually means the patient doesn’t have to travel far for their psychological treatment, encouraging attendance and for some patients. Receiving treatment in their local GP surgery reduces the perception of stigma associated with having a mental health problem.

Intervening at an earlier stage and addressing common mental health issues can also improve care, while closer team-working can help reduce the number of referrals to hospital or community care – freeing up capacity elsewhere in the mental health care system.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting director of primary care, said: “General Practice is the front door of the NHS. We continue to support the expansion of the workforce so patients have access to a range of different health professionals, so that we can better support both their physical and mental health needs.”

People with a physical health condition, often an age-related one, are more likely than the rest of the population to experience mental ill health. More than 16 million people in England are diagnosed with a long-term physical health condition and one in three of this group will experience a mental health problem.

In most cases, basing mental health therapists in GP surgeries is done in collaboration with NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. It has been described as “the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression” and the latest monthly figures (for May) showed that 25,198 patients moved on to recovery – delivering the highest recovery rate (52.8%) ever.

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