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Mental health setback

Primary care mental health workers deliver patient satisfaction but do not improve outcomes, a Government-funded trial reveals.

The study found no reduction in symptom scores in mentally ill patients treated in practices employing the workers. It is the first to evaluate their

effectiveness, and questions whether they are achieving their aim of supporting and improving GP care.

Of 16 practices in Heart of Birmingham teaching PCT included in the study, the eight that were assigned a primary care mental health worker had a higher level of patient satisfaction than control practices.

Patients scored an average of 8.3 points higher on the 18-item Consultation Satisfaction Questionnaire, and were 'modestly' happier with the length of consultation and the information received about mental illnesses.

But an assessment using the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation-Outcome Measure, designed to measure clinical

efficacy, found no evidence that presence of a mental health worker reduced patient symptoms.

Professor Helen Lester, professor of primary care at the University of Birmingham and leader of the current review of the QOF, said: 'This trial provides no evidence that practices with mental health workers

improved the resolution of mental health symptoms.'

But she added: 'The results do suggest workers based in primary care offer a valued service for many patients. This may be seen as an end in itself within a political climate that emphasises the importance of increasing patient choice.'

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