23 July 2020
More and better mental health support is needed in GP surgeries in the wake of Covid-19, according to a report published today by The King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health.
Mental Health and Primary Care Networks finds that current provision of mental health support in general practice is variable and often inadequate. As practices join up into over 1,000 Primary Care Networks in England, the report calls on them to seize the opportunity to strengthen mental health provision in primary care. This could help to fill the gap at a time of increased need for mental health care in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Mental Health and Primary Care Networks concludes that enhancing mental health support in primary care will be good for patients, communities and GPs. It can help to close the gap between primary care and specialist mental health services that has left many people without the right support.
Current gaps in mental health support in primary care include help for children and young people with emerging mental health difficulties, care for people who have both mental and physical health conditions at the same time, and support for those who need more help than their practice can provide but who are not seen as eligible for specialist mental health services.
The report says that NHS England’s Community Mental Health Framework could provide the blueprint for better primary care mental health support for those who currently miss out. But to fulfil that potential, mental health and primary care services have to work together more closely both nationally and locally.
Primary Care Networks have access to additional funding, which from next year can be used to employ mental health practitioners working in GP surgeries. It’s vital that networks receive the resources that will be needed to meet the growing need for mental health support.
Beccy Baird, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, and one of the report’s co-authors said: “Large numbers of people who need mental health support fall into the gaps between services. This was already the case before Covid-19, and the pandemic now risks exacerbating the problem. We need investment in new services that completely redesign the interface between primary care and specialist mental health services, providing flexible support rather than rigid referral criteria. NHS England’s Community Mental Health Framework provides a potential blueprint, and mental health leaders will need to work closely with local primary care networks to put this into practice.”
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Primary Care Networks can create a new start for mental health in primary care by acknowledging that they cannot fulfil their core roles without it. And mental health services can reach out to primary care colleagues to help to build a truly ‘whole-population approach’ that leaves no one behind.
“We are already seeing a rising tide of poor mental health as a result of the pandemic. This is unlikely to subside any time soon and may rise again this winter. So we must ensure that GP services across the country are equipped and supported to meet the full range of mental health needs in their communities.”