Sharp rise in GPs seeking help from NHS mental health service

The number of GPs using a specialist NHS mental health and addiction service has increased by around 50% over the past year.

(Photo: Photofusion/Getty Images)
(Photo: Photofusion/Getty Images)

In September 2019, 1,855 GPs had an active case with NHS Practitioner Health - an initiative that offers free, confidential support for doctors and dentists in England experiencing mental health or addiction issues. This is 56% up from the 1,188 GPs registered with the service at the end of the first quarter of the 2018/19 financial year.

Numbers of GPs registering with the service each month have increased by around 10% compared with last year, with an average of 90 GPs seeking help each month since April.

Around 3,000 medical professionals in total are using NHS Practitioner Health, which was rebranded at the start of October following the merger of two similar initiatives - the GP Health Service and the Practitioner Health Programme (PHP).

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Where can GPs access help and support if they are struggling to cope?

The service has also been expanded, with access extended to all doctors and dentists in England. Previously the service offered support to GPs across England but only to secondary care doctors and dentists in London.

NHS Practitioner Health chief executive Lucy Warner said: ‘Having the two separate programmes caused a little confusion since we launched GP Health in 2016 as not everyone had realised that PHP and GP Health were essentially the same service under two different names with different commissioners. This meant some people had heard of PHP or GP Health but hadn’t understood it was the same service.

‘The entire service is now being commissioned by NHS England and this way we can have one set of communications that works for the entire service.’

As part of the expansion, Warner says the programme has plans to recruit around 40 additional clinicians and grow its therapist network. But she said GPs would still be able to access the service via the same hotline number - 0300 0303 300. The service is available 8am–8pm Monday–Friday and 8am–2pm Saturday.

Mental health support

Ms Warner added that the decision to open the service to all doctors and dentists would make it easier for GPs to handle cases concerning fellow clinicians.

‘When GPs see non-GP patients or colleagues they can signpost them to this service and will no longer have to justify why there is an England-wide service for GPs and not for their secondary care colleagues which we know was causing some anxiety’.

GPonline reported this week on an inquest into the death of a GP who took his own life after struggling with pressure and feeling unable to seek mental health support.

Research published in October found that GPs were more at risk of burnout than doctors in other medical specialties - while a GMC report in July warned that one in four trainee doctors felt burnt out.

Meanwhile, a recent BMA report said that NHS doctors were facing a mental health crisis amid rising pressure, created by ‘the contradiction between the increase in responsibility and scope, and decrease in capacity’.

For more information about NHS Practitioner Health click here

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