A survey of more than 1,000 GPs has revealed rising demand for mental health support in primary care. GPs say that two in five (40 per cent) of their appointments now involve mental health, while two in three GPs (66 per cent) say the proportion of patients needing help with their mental health has increased in the last 12 months.
Mind, which carried out the survey, is calling for better mental health training for GPs. Current initial training for GPs can be limited; only one of the 21 compulsory modules for trainees is specifically dedicated to mental health. Trainees have the option to undertake a placement in mental health but most will have completed this in a hospital, rather than in community-based mental health services. In the survey, four out of five GPs agreed there should be a wider range of options for mental health training.
Mind is backing existing calls to extend GP training from three to four years, to allow more time for trainee GPs to gain experience in mental health, and calling for a wider range of relevant mental health placement options.
The charity is also calling for progress in England on plans to introduce more mental health therapists linked to GP surgeries, to alleviate some the critical shortfall in the primary care workforce. Plans to introduce 3,000 therapists by 2020 have been outlined in two separate NHS England plans – the GP Forward View and the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – but progress has been slow.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “For most of us, our GP is our first port of call for accessing support for our mental health on the NHS, and the majority of people will only ever be seen in their GP practice. As demand increases, it is more important than ever that the NHS gets that support right.
“GPs do a really difficult job. We know it can make a huge difference when our GP is knowledgeable and confident about mental health, or when we find that a physical illness is affecting our mental health. When they are well supported and receive specialised, relevant and ongoing training, they are better equipped to provide the best care.”
Dr Barbara Compitus lives in South Wales, and works in Bristol and Pontypool. She has been a GP for 16 years and has an interest and additional expertise in mental health. She says:
“I’ve noticed an increase in patients using terms like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ – people are much more open now. When I first started out as a GP it was tough to get these kind of things out of people who’d often have made an appointment for a physical health problem, even though they might have been struggling with mental health too.
“As a locum GP, I cover for GPs when they’re off sick, meaning I get to choose where I work, when I work and what I do, which helps me manage my own wellbeing. Offering more mental health training to trainee GPs, would allow them to feel more confident when dealing with the high volume of patients experiencing these types of problems. Ensuring they have the tools to recognise their own mental health needs as well as those of their patients is essential.”