Clinical psychology in primary care

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Dr Graham Durcan 
8 September 2020

Primary care services are most people’s first and most frequent point of contact with the NHS. However, they are struggling to meet ever-growing demand with limited resources, and GPs have variable levels of knowledge and confidence in meeting people’s mental health needs.

Clinical psychology in primary care highlights the potential benefits of clinical psychology as a front-line health service. It describes two different approaches to bringing psychology into GP surgeries to meet two different, and quite distinct, types of mental health need. It also looks at a model of community psychology to demonstrate the wider range of ways that psychology can meet the needs of the most marginalised groups of people ‘where they are at’. In addition, the report explores the economic case for integrating clinical psychologists within primary care services.

These sites demonstrate the therapeutic and cost benefits of clinical psychology being offered directly in communities. It can offer effective support to people who previously got little or no effective help for their mental or physical health from the NHS.

The report makes the case for clinical psychology to be more routinely available as a front-line health service. From next year, Primary Care Networks will be able to use additional funding to employ mental health workers. This will be an important opportunity to bring more psychology expertise into GP surgeries and communities as part of the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Our recommendations:
  • NHS England/Improvement should ensure that the implementation of the NHS Community Mental Health Framework is aligned with the development of Primary Care Networks to maximise the opportunities to bring clinical psychology expertise into primary care
  • The Department of Health and Social Care should ensure that the national recruitment campaign for 26,000 more primary care professionals working over the NHS in the next 5 years has a focus on psychological approaches
  • Primary Care Networks should take the opportunity to offer clinical psychology to their patients by employing mental health professionals from April 2021
  • Clinical commissioning groups and integrated care systems should develop plans and local recruitment strategies for extending clinical psychology provision in primary care as part of the implementation of the NHS Community Mental Health Framework
  • Integrated care systems, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities should explore the potential for innovative community psychology projects to address unmet needs in the most marginalised communities whose members do not routinely seek help from statutory services.

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