The scheme, serving NHS staff across London’s 31 PCTs, receives block funding of £1m a year. One medical director said the scheme had saved his PCT alone £500,000.
LMCs have reported a sharp rise in GPs suffering depression and stress amid funding cuts, reforms and rising workload.
The scheme could help PCTs hit the £20bn NHS savings target. In London the cost of providing cover for GPs on sick leave amounts to £900,000 per year. Suspensions owing to ill-health cost £5.5m in London.
The Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), set up in response to the 2009 Boorman review into NHS health and wellbeing, has seen 554 doctors and dentists over three years.
A total of 85% were seen for mental health problems, while 28% were seen for addiction – primarily alcohol abuse. PHP data show a large rise in young doctors seeking treatment.
The programme escaped being scrapped when DH pilot funding stopped in 2010.
But only doctors in London can access the scheme via self-referral, with doctors elsewhere forced to visit a GP and ask to be referred. If the cost of their treatment exceeds £10,000 the referral would have to be signed off by their PCT.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada, medical director of the PHP, said: ‘More than two years after the Boorman Review there is still only one PHP and while we’re grateful for it, the funding is not generous. Yet our outcome figures are remarkable.’
She said stigma around addiction and mental health put many doctors off seeking a referral. ‘Most who come to us in London do so by self-referral and sometimes anonymously.’
An anonymous online comment by a GP said: ‘For those of us who do not live in London there is no similar service and we continue to experience lack of understanding, stigmatisation and discrimination. Perhaps services for the rest of the country can start appearing.’
GPC member Dr Nigel Watson said many GPs would accept referral, but backed funding for a wider roll-out of the scheme.
However, David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said upfront investment and the need for PCTs to collaborate to fund the services could be an obstacle.