THOUSANDS of new mental health experts will be on hand to support people in their local GP practice amid a record demand for services, the head of the NHS announced on Saturday (11).
Fully trained experts from local NHS trusts will offer people with severe mental health problems such as bipolar, psychosis or eating disorders, a consultation, treatment, peer support, or a referral to hospital teams without needing a GP appointment.
The new service, described by one patient as making her feel like “a different person” ensures people are offered appointments with mental experts which are up to three times longer than a standard GP appointment, which means more time for their needs to be assessed.
The NHS is providing funding for two mental health practitioners for every group of GP practices in a local area, meaning up to 2,500 mental health experts will be providing additional support.
Introduction of the new roles will see primary care and mental health trusts working together to offer one single service to patients, while family doctors time will be freed up to focus on routine care.
Almost 500 mental health practitioners, including community psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists and mental health occupational therapists are already working in GP surgeries across England.
Demand for NHS mental health services has significantly grown following the pandemic – and the NHS is treating more children and young people than ever before, with over a fifth more children treated this year compared to before the NHS Long Term Plan.
The number of adults referred to community mental health services has also increased by nearly one fifth since the beginning of the pandemic.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said, “Giving people convenient care for mental ill health is a lifeline.
“NHS patients and their families know that better access to NHS mental health support in their community, including through their local GP, not only goes with the grain of how people like to seek help, but also helps with common conditions before they escalate into something even more serious or something that can result in a stay in hospital.
“Thousands more mental health experts working as part of family doctor teams, is a major boost for the NHS’ drive to integrate physical and mental health care and will not only mean more people get better care, but crucially will help hard-working GP teams to provide the best possible care for their patients.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director, said, “I am delighted to see family doctors working alongside their local mental health trust and ensuring that patients are offered a far more joined-up care from a single service.
“Providing specialist mental health support at local family doctors surgeries is another key milestone in the journey to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, as the NHS works alongside the government to introduce new access standards for mental health patients.”
Sixty-eight-year-old Theresa Adams from Stockton-on-Tees was referred to a mental health practitioner as she grieved the death of her husband.
She said, “It’s made me a different person. My motto is now, “never be afraid to reach out for help and talk to somebody, and tell them how you feel”, because there is help out there.”
Another patient who did not want to be named said about the mental health practitioner they saw, “has been an amazing support over the last six weeks. Every appointment helped me to feel supported and optimistic. I am so grateful I had support over a difficult couple of months.”
Mental health services are being backed by an additional £2.3 billion every year in additional funding until 2023-24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to improving community mental health services.
The new roles are part of the NHS’s ambition to give 370,000 adults and older adults with severe mental illnesses greater choice and mental health support in the community, reducing the likelihood that they will need to be admitted to mental health inpatient settings.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for Primary Care at NHS England said,“As a GP, I have seen first-hand the significant impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health, with far more people coming forward for support.
“So, it is fantastic that up to 2,500 more mental health practitioners will be available to work with us, as part of joined-up teams in primary care, to offer patients faster access to specialist mental health support through their local General Practice team.
“If you are someone with bipolar disorder, an eating disorder or psychosis and feel you need more support it’s important you know you are not alone and that it is okay to get help.”
The introduction of mental health experts in GP surgeries has already seen success across the country, including in Teesside where two mental health nurses saw more than 1,600 patents over six months in GP surgeries, with more than seven in10 saying they would recommend the service.
The NHS has recruited an extra 18,000 staff to General Practices since 2019, meaning the health service is ahead of the government target of recruiting 26,000 staff by 2024.