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Ministers plan GP inequality drive

GPs feel changes to referrals for mental health are forcing them to 'refer into a void' and damaging patient care, a new study reveals.

Researchers uncovered deep dissatisfaction with single point of access referral, which requires GPs to refer patients to mental health teams rather than individual doctors.

They claimed their study had 'massive' implications as single point of access referral is being rolled out across the country and copied to other disease areas such as diabetes.

Researchers interviewed 135 GPs in the qualitative study, published in Family Practice this week. GPs complained that the system damaged professional communication and prevented them learning about secondary care treatments, undermining their credibility with patients.

One GP said: 'It might be the throwing of bones or reading of prunes for all we know.'

Study leader Dr Rosalind Raine, senior lecturer in the department of public health and policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said GPs appreciated there were some benefits but had 'deep misgivings'.

'GPs said they were referring into a black box and not gaining knowledge for patients or increasing their understanding of treatments. The implications are massive as single point of access is spreading.'

GP mental health expert Dr Janet Ward said the distancing of mental health services from primary care had had a 'very negative impact' on patients.

Dr Ward, a GP in Honiton, Devon, with a special interest in mental health, said: 'There is no longer a sense of working together, just defensive barriers between services.'

By Cato Pedder

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