NHS ENGLAND has drawn up new guidance to encourage GP surgeries to integrate mental health therapists into the service they offer patients.
The new therapists will work within 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.
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."
Mental health therapists, which are 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. Working within practices means that patients do not have to travel far for psychological treatment, encouraging attendance and helping to reduce the stigma associated with having a mental health problem.
NHS England believes that intervening at an earlier stage and addressing common mental health issues will improve care, while closer team-working can help reduce the number of referrals to hospital or community care – releasing capacity.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented: "Having ready access to specially-trained mental health therapists in primary care, who are integrated into the general practice team, has the power to radically change how we're able to deliver care to our patients, and hopefully improve outcomes for patients with mental health conditions.
"It's estimated that 90 per cent of patients with mental health conditions first present in general practice, but many patients are having to wait far too long to access specialist services in the community, that could be of great benefit to them."