GPs left ‘helpless’ by NHS mental health service at breaking point

Damning report warns that GPs are feeling ‘helpless and frustrated’ due to crumbling NHS mental health services

This is an edited version of an article first published by GPonline.

More than half of mental healthcare professionals are ‘too busy to provide the care they would like to be able to give’, according to a poll of 1,000 staff by the BMA in association with the Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Clinical Psychologists.

A total of 44% of respondents said they felt demoralised, and the same proportion reported that their workload was unmanageable.

Nine out of 10 patients with mental health problems are cared for entirely in primary care – and GP leaders say the shortage of services has left the profession feeling ‘helpless’ because support for vulnerable patients is ‘incredibly hard to come by’.

Mental health services

The findings come just days after a separate poll found that three quarters of GPs believed child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) had deteriorated in the past year – and that more than half of 11- to 18-year-olds referred to the service by GPs were rejected for treatment.

BMA mental health policy lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: “This study highlights the very serious problems facing the mental health sector with a workforce near to breaking point. There are desperate shortages of care staff of all types across mental health, with doctors and nurses on the frontline overworked and demoralised – and patient care is suffering as a result.

“Mental healthcare accounts for 25% of all healthcare activity and yet our funding settlement stands at around 14% of healthcare spending at best. This is not right and has to improve. There must be a step-change in the government’s approach to ensure we move beyond just “parity of esteem” for physical and mental health.”

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “90% of people with mental health problems are cared for in primary care, so GPs know first-hand the serious impact living with mental health problems can have on their patients, the demand these issues have on the NHS, as well as the resulting difficulty in getting every patient the care they need and deserve.

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GP referral

“The standard 10-minute appointment is too short to adequately deal with patients presenting with mental health conditions, and even when GPs are able to take next steps, mental health therapy services in the community are incredibly hard to come by, either because they are oversubscribed or simply don’t exist.

“As today’s report shows, we must start seeing mental and physical health as equal, and the same level of resources made available to mental health services, both within GP surgeries and throughout the wider community.

“Without this, GPs are left feeling helpless and frustrated, but those who are most vulnerable are also left feeling unsafe and unsupported, and that has to change.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Expanding the mental health workforce is a key priority for this government so we meet rising demand on services and ensure patients receive the best treatment.

“From September this year, we’re giving all nursing and midwifery students at least £5,000 a year and we’re taking immediate action to fill vacancies and secure the staff we need – including increasing university clinical placements by over 5,000 more and bolstering the workforce through greater international recruitment.”

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