GPs are being encouraged to place mental health experts in their surgeries to bring more mental and physical health services under one roof.
Under the NHS England plans, therapists would 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.
Figures show nine out of 10 adults with mental health problems are supported in primary care and broadening the range of services for patients means local health services are better equipped to deal with patients’ physical and mental health needs.
NHS England’s national director for mental health, Claire Murdoch, 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.”
Many parts of the country are already combining mental health and primary care services this way, including in Sheffield, where Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (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 physical and mental health needs.
In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, the IAPT service uses the GPs’ diary system, which means practice staff can book appointments with the therapist directly.
And 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.
Dr John Hague, clinical mental health lead at Suffolk and North East Essex STP (sustainability and transformation plan), said: “If the IAPT service is seeing a patient then it is freeing up the GPs and nurses to do other work. So why not do it?
“There is no reason why not. Evidence-based low intensity treatments are effective in terms of patient recovery and for most issues offer the most rapid, sure-fire chance of recovery.”
People with a physical health condition are more likely than the rest of the population to experience mental ill health.
More than 16 million people in England are diagnosed with a long-term physical health condition, and one in three of this group will experience a mental health problem.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting director of primary care, said: “General practice is the front door of the NHS.
“We continue to support the expansion of the workforce so patients have access to a range of different health professionals so that we can better support both their physical and mental health needs.”