Speaking exclusively to GPonline, Dr Gerada said the service - set up to support GPs facing burnout, addiction or mental health issues - had already received self-referrals running ‘well into double figures’ in the past six weeks, before the scheme has officially launched.
The NHS GP Health Service, led by Dr Gerada's Hurley Group partnership, will open on Monday 30 January to allow GPs and GP trainees to self-refer themselves for confidential help, advice or treatment.
It is designed to offer a lifeline to GPs who have been struggling with mental health, addiction or burnout issues who feel they cannot access existing mental health services due to concerns over confidentiality or fear of being stigmatised.
The Hurley Group has run the London-based Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) for a decade - which has helped nearly 3,500 doctors who live in the capital to date - and will be scaling up much of what it has learned there across England for the GP Health Service.
The national scheme is braced to deal with around 1% to 1.5% of the GP population, totalling approximately 500 to 700 patients a year. It has capacity to treat more, but Gerada warned if 10% of GPs sought help, the scheme ‘would not be able to cope’.
‘My anxiety at the beginning is that we have no idea how many doctors are going to present and, clearly, if we’re flooded it could cause a problem,' she said.
‘We have actually been taking referrals now for six weeks and the doctors we have been getting are very unwell.
‘So I think at the beginning we are going to get some very unwell doctors, which we will have to manage and then as it beds down we will get a more normal distribution, where the majority will be GPs with common mental health problems like depression and the minority with addiction and complex mental health problems.’
She advised any GP struggling with addiction, low mood or who is struggling after receiving a complaint to seek out help from the new service.
GP health service
‘The number one sign is if they're taking an illegal substance or using alcohol to self-medicate. Please ring us up, we can help. If they're struggling with any drug-related issue, we’re very happy to help out.
‘If they’ve received a complaint and their world is falling apart, if they just can’t go to work because they're demoralised and they don’t know where to go for help – or if they’re staying way beyond the hours they should and are weeping on the way home, we’re happy to see them as well.
‘And if they have suicidal thoughts – now, suicidal thoughts are common among doctors, but if they really can’t get the thoughts out of their head or they're beginning to make plans, then ring us up and we can help.’
Dr Gerada said she was keen for doctors to come forward whatever strain the new service finds itself under, and that self-referrals to the existing service generally had been appropriate.
‘We’d rather see people than not, and we’d rather assess them than not,’ she said. ‘What we don’t want are GP trainers referring their entire vocational training scheme because everyone is miserable. And we can't have a flood-gate of everyone who has had an argument with their boyfriend and feels a bit down today.
‘On the whole, we have not had that [in the London scheme] over the last 10 years,' she said. 'People tend to know when to self-refer themselves.’