The Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), which was set up by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada and which runs the NHS GP Health Service, was inspected by the regulator in January and found to be ‘outstanding’ for effective, responsive and leadership and ‘good’ for safe and caring.
PHP was set up in 2008 and offers a confidential, self-referral NHS service for doctors and dentists who are suffering from mental health problems ‘in particular where these might affect their work’. PHP was awarded the contract to run the NHS GP Health Service, which began in 2017 and is open to any GP or GP trainee on the NHS England performers’ list who has a mental health concern of any kind or an addiction problem.
The CQC described the service as ‘unique’ and ‘led by a management team who had identified the need for this resource and had personally dedicated themselves to ensuring that this need was recognised and addressed by stakeholders.’
The report praised the ‘compassion and kindness’ of PHP/GP Health Service staff, who treated patients ‘with dignity and respect’ and were ‘acutely aware of the sensitivities around patient confidentiality’.
It was also found that ‘practitioner patients’ were able to access care and treatment from the service ‘within an appropriate timescale for their needs’ via an online appointment booking app, which allowed patients to schedule time with a member of staff of their choice and keep track of the appointments available to them.
However, the CQC did suggest that the provider ‘put processes in place to regularly monitor that safety checks have been completed at remote sites’.
Practitioner Health Programme chief executive Lucy Warner said: 'We are absolutely delighted to receive the rating, which is a wonderful recognition of the dedication and commitment of our clinical and administrative teams across England.
'It is so important that doctors accessing support through the service know that the care they will receive will be tailored to their needs, will do all it can to help them return to work safely and that we will ensure confidentiality of their issues. It has been particularly special to receive an outstanding rating given how hard it was to find comparative services to rate us against.'
In November last year the GP Health Service revealed that it was supporting 1,363 GPs facing burnout, stress, addiction or other mental health issues.
Figures from the first quarter of the 2018/19 financial year showed that three quarters of new registrations for the service were women,and trainees made up 29% of cases. During that period vast majority of new registrations (96%) had no regulatory involvement, with 69% of doctors working at the time of registration with the service.
The rise in mental health issues among GPs has been marked in recent years, with one January 2019 survey suggesting that as many as one in three could be suffering from burnout, depression or both. Meanwhile, research published in October found that GPs were more at risk of burnout than doctors in any other medical specialty.
The UK LMCs conference earlier this month backed a motion calling for urgent action to tackle an increased risk of suicide among GPs.