Primary care mental health service improves health and saves NHS money, finds new report

26 September 2019

A psychological treatment service working in GP surgeries in Nottingham offers hope to people other services can’t help and has already saved more money than its staffing costs in its first year, according to research published today by Centre for Mental Health with the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network.

A new approach to complex needs, by Nick O’Shea, reports on the Primary Care Psychological Medicine service in Rushcliffe. The service offers psychological interventions to people who have high levels of unexplained or persistent physical symptoms of illness. Persistent physical symptoms can be painful, life-limiting and distressing. This can mean multiple GP appointments, outpatient visits and emergencies.

The report uses financial data from the Primary Care Psychological Medicine (PCPM) service and other local health services to identify what impact the PCPM service is making after its first full year of operation. It finds that the service reduces the use of GP, outpatient and emergency department services in one year by more than its own staff costs. By helping people to manage their symptoms, it can bring about tangible improvements in health which mean people need less help from the NHS, both while they are being treated and afterwards.

A new approach to complex needs concludes that Primary Care Networks could benefit from setting up similar services in local areas across the country so that fewer people miss out on the support they need close to home.

Report author Nick O’Shea said:

People with persistent physical symptoms often suffer from years of pain and distress without effective help. For many, psychological support can be helpful and sometimes life-changing. The PCPM shows what a difference it can make to people’s lives in just a short space of time. We will continue to evaluate its impact, but it is clear already that it is one to watch for the future.

Dr Julie Hankin, Medical Director at Nottinghamshire Healthcare, the Trust which delivers the Primary Care Mental Health Service in Rushcliffe, said: ”Whilst an important outcome of this pilot has been the savings made to commissioners and the reduced contact with GP and Emergency services, the real benefit has been in the improvement in people’s wellbeing and mental health. That cannot be underestimated and is a service that could help many more people suffering from these symptoms. We would welcome the ambition shown here to roll out this services to other Primary Care Networks.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “The Primary Care Psychological Medicine service is a good example of integrated care breaking down artificial barriers between physical and mental health.

“This report shows PCPM is positive for patients with persistent and painful physical illness and offers the opportunity for emerging Primary Care Networks to provide person-centred care that can genuinely and lastingly change lives. It also represents an opportunity for significant savings across the system if scaled up, which could also see a much-needed reprieve for overstretched services in primary care.”

The report was produced as part of the Mental Health Economics Collaborative, a joint project between the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network, Centre for Mental Health and London School of Economics Care Policy and Evaluation Centre. The PCPM is one of four primary care mental health services being studied as part of a project to explore cost-effective approaches to meeting people’s mental health needs in primary care.

Download the report here

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