GP tool to boost mental health diagnoses

GPs will be supported to help spot millions of patients with undiagnosed mental health disorders, but experts said access to essential treatment services remains 'patchy'.

A NICE guideline launched Wednesday advises GPs how to detect and treat patients with a common mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety disorder.

Up to 15% of adults are affected at any one time by the disorder but often go undiagnosed. The disorders account for one in five work absentees and cost UK employers £25bn each year.

GPs who designed the guideline said access to treatment services was limited in some areas of the country and must improve.

NICE will encourage GPs and practice staff to ‘be alert to’ possible depression and anxiety disorders in patients. It describes a quick intervention that can be used to decide if a patient needs further assessment.

Described as a ‘one-stop-shop’ reference tool, the guideline also advises how to develop referral and care pathways in the local area, and sets out options for treatment to cut use of antidepressants in primary care.

Bristol GP Dr Barbara Compitus, who helped develop the resource, told GP it would give clinicians and practice staff the confidence to broach the subject of mental health with a patient, and provide a structured path to follow when assessing and referring.

RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada welcomed the guideline and said it brought together a ‘myriad’ of advice into one place. ‘We are really pleased that NICE is listening to GPs and producing practical guidance that can be easily adopted for the benefit of patients.’

Hull GP Professor Tony Kendrick, who led the guideline’s development, said the availability and quality of treatment services referred to by GPs were ‘patchy’ at present.

Although they need to improve, progress is being made, he said. The government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) project now has ‘hundreds of patients a week’ accessing a demonstrator service in Doncaster, he added.

The project, which champions an alternative to drug treatment, ‘needs to be implemented everywhere,’ he said.

The government recently pledged £400m to complete the roll-out of the project in its strategy No Health Without Mental Health. Six in ten adults in England can currently access the scheme if required, and access will be nationwide by 2014/15.

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