Mental health and primary care networks

23 July 2020

Understanding the opportunities

Chris Naylor, Andy Bell, Beccy Baird, Abigail Heller, Helen Gilburt

How can we use Primary Care Networks to improve mental health support for people in primary care?

The establishment of primary care networks is one of the most important reforms to primary care in England in recent years. This report explores the opportunities these new networks create for improving the mental health support provided to people in primary care, and describes why such improvement is badly needed.

Mental health and primary care, published jointly by Centre for Mental Health and The King’s Fund, finds that current provision of mental health support in general practice is variable and often inadequate.

The provision of mental health support in primary care does not meet the range of needs of that exist, with significant gaps in services. Current gaps in mental health support in primary care include help for children and young people with emerging mental health difficulties, and care for people who have both mental and physical health conditions at the same time.

And while the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme provides valuable support for many people, it does not present a complete solution to the range of challenges in primary care. Many people are assessed as being ‘too complex’ for IAPT services and are rejected by specialist mental health services, leaving GPs to pick up the pieces.

Covid-19 means the case for change is stronger than ever, with intense workload pressures being experienced in both primary care and mental health services, and with potential increases in mental health needs in the population.

The primary care networks established across England since 2019 could create an important opportunity to develop more comprehensive approaches to primary mental health care. Current plans are that from April 2021 this will include the option of using new funding to pay for mental health practitioners based in general practices.

As mental health trusts and commissioners across England develop plans to implement NHS England’s Community Mental Health Framework, they need to ensure that their plans reach into primary care and address the significant gaps and challenges that exist. Working closely with primary care network leaders offers a way to better understand what changes are needed from a primary care perspective.

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.

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