New guidance calls for mental health therapists in GP practices

Health chiefs have drawn up new guidance to encourage doctors to place mental health therapists in practice surgeries – bringing more mental and physical health services under one roof.

These new therapists will be integrated into primary care teams and focus on common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, particularly where this occurs in patients with a long term physical health condition such as diabetes, respiratory or heart problems.

In house mental health therapists, largely provided through collaboration with local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services are expected to be full members of the primary healthcare team – receiving self-referrals from patients as well as GPs, clinical pharmacists, practice nurses and healthcare assistants. In addition they should: attend practice meetings, provide specialist advice to support to ensure mental health is taken on-board and considered as part of treatment and care in the surgery and lastly link in with clinicians across other mental and physical health services on behalf of the patient and practice.

Intervening at an earlier stage and addressing common mental health issues can also improve care, while closer team-working can help reduce the number of referrals to hospital or community care – releasing capacity.

Many parts of the country have already pressed ahead with plans to transform mental health and primary care services this way. In Sheffield, IAPT practitioners provide updates on the patient record on GP systems at each appointment. This provides the doctor with useful information on how the patient is getting on and enables them to have a fully informed conversation about their mental and physical health needs. Additionally In Cambridge and Peterborough, early results show that timely and effective mental health care for people with diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses have resulted in a three-quarters reduction in inpatient hospital attendance and a two-thirds drop in A&E admissions, freeing up £200,000 of NHS funding.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health said: “Joining up talking therapy services in primary care settings is another big step forward for our patients and a key plank in putting mental health at the centre of the long-term plan for the NHS. We are on track to deliver 3,000 therapists in primary care, with over 800 in surgeries at the end of last year and this handy guidance should convince those practices that are yet to take the plunge of the benefits.”

Commenting on the work to improve the care on offer to patients in her patch, Dr Emma Tiffin, clinical mental health lead, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough sustainability and transformation Plan (STP) said: “As a GP, an important part of my work is to help make patients’ access to mental and physical health care as quick and easy as possible and that includes informing patients about the options available to access treatments and normalising mental health part of the GP offer.”