40% of GP appointments concern mental health, doctors need better training and support - Mind

Posted On: 
6th June 2018

GPs have a critical role to play in supporting so many people with mental health problems and, as demand increases, it is more important than ever that the NHS gets this right, says Mind. 

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For most of us, GPs are first port of call for accessing support for our mental health on the NHS, and the majority of people will only ever be seen in their GP practice. At Mind we know the difference it can make when your GP is knowledgeable and confident about mental health, even if the range of treatments or therapies they can offer may be limited.

The results of our survey of over 1,000 GPs, published today, reveal the scale of demand for mental health support in primary care. GPs say that two in five of their appointments now involve mental health, while two in three GPs say the proportion of patients needing help with their mental health has increased in the last 12 months.

We have today written to Health Education England to ask for better mental health training for GPs. Current initial training for GPs can be limited; only one of the 21 compulsory modules for trainees is specifically dedicated to mental health. We are backing existing calls to extend GP training from three to four years, to allow more time for trainee GPs to gain experience in mental health.

We are also calling for more options when it comes to GP training. At the moment, GP trainees have the option to undertake a placement in mental health but most will have completed this in a hospital, rather than in community-based mental health services. In our survey, four out of five GPs agreed there should be a wider range of options for mental health training.

As one GP put it: “When training as a GP, it's important to see people at both ends of the spectrum - those acutely mentally unwell in places such as A&E but also people with less severe mental health problems, the types of problems you're more likely to encounter day-to-day in the surgery.”

Training is only one part of the picture, however, which is why we are also calling for progress on plans to introduce more mental health therapists linked to GP surgeries, to alleviate some the critical shortfall in the primary care workforce. Plans to introduce 3,000 therapists by 2020 have been outlined in two separate NHS plans – the GP Forward View and the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – but progress has been slow.

GPs do a really difficult job. They have a critical role to play in supporting so many people with mental health problems and, as demand increases, it is more important than ever that the NHS gets this right. When GPs are themselves well-supported and receive specialised, relevant and ongoing training, they are better equipped to provide the best possible care.

Mind’s letter to Health Education England is backed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, Rethink Mental Illness, Mental Health Foundation, Centre for Mental Health, the Mental Health Network and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The full text is available here.

This work is part of Mind’s campaign to improve primary care support for people with mental health problems. More information about Find the Words, including how to make the most of a 10-minute appointment and advice for GPs on looking after their own mental health, can be found at mind.org.uk/findthewords