Two in five GP appointments (40%) now involve mental health, according to the doctors who deliver them.
A survey of more than 1,000 GPs conducted by mental health charity Mind has also revealed two in three GPs (66%) say the proportion of patients needing help with their mental health has increased in the last 12 months.
In the light of the results, the charity is calling for better mental health training for GPs as four out of five doctors surveyed agreed there should be a wider range of options for mental health training.
Current initial training for GPs can be limited; only one of the 21 compulsory modules for trainees is specifically dedicated to mental health. 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 an open letter to Health Education England, signed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs and other bodies, Mind is backing calls to extend GP training from three to four years. This would allow more time for trainee GPs to gain experience in mental health.
Dr Timothy Cooper, who completes his GP training next month, said he feels “very lucky” to have spent six months training in an in-patient psychiatric hospital as well as an out-patient clinic.
“This was hugely useful in helping my understanding of mental health. Mental health is not discriminatory - it affects people from all walks of life and as a GP you’re bound to come into contact with many people affected by these issues,” said the 30-year-old, who lives in Basingstoke.
“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.”
Dr Barbara Compitus, a GP who in lives in South Wales, also supports the idea of further mental health training, saying it could improve the GP’s wellbeing as well as the patient’s.
“Offering more mental health training to trainee GPs would allow them to feel more confident when dealing with the high volume of patients experiencing these types of problems,” she said. “Ensuring they have the tools to recognise their own mental health needs as well as those of their patients is essential.”
Mind is 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.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “For most of us, our GP is our 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. As demand increases, it is more important than ever that the NHS gets that support right.
“GPs do a really difficult job. We know it can make a huge difference when our GP is knowledgeable and confident about mental health, or when we find that a physical illness is affecting our mental health. When they are well supported and receive specialised, relevant and ongoing training, they are better equipped to provide the best care.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee chair, said: “GPs want to offer the best possible care to their patients and are working hard to do so, despite the challenges created by a decade of underfunding. At the same time, the number of patients needing help with mental health problems is increasing.
“We not only need greater investment in community-based training to give GPs more opportunity to develop their skills but also a significant increase in mental health therapists directly linked to practices. This would reduce the unacceptable delays many patients currently face getting access to the care they need.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org