Forty per cent of all GP consultations now see patients raising a mental health problem, a survey has revealed.
More than 1,000 GPs took part in the study, which also found that two in three GPs had seen an increase in the number of patients needing help with their mental health over the past 12 months.
The results have prompted health leaders from the BMA, the RCGP and mental health charity Mind to pen an open letter to Health Education England renewing calls for GP training to be extended from three to four years.
This, they say, would allow more time for trainees to access a wider range of mental health placement options to equip them with more knowledge and confidence in this area.
The survey results obtained by Mind add weight to a growing body of evidence that suggests mental health is becoming an increasingly large part of a GP’s workload. Pulse reported last year that there had been an ‘85% increase’ in patients with mental health conditions in the past five years.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘GPs want to offer the best possible care to their patients and are working hard to do so, despite the challenges created by a decade of underfunding. At the same time, the number of patients needing help with mental health problems is increasing.
‘We not only need greater investment in community-based training to give GPs more opportunity to develop their skills but also a significant increase in mental health therapists directly linked to practices. This would reduce the unacceptable delays many patients currently face getting access to the care they need.’
It follows a pledge by NHS England in April 2016 to fully fund 3,000 mental health therapists to work in general practice by 2021, as part of the General Practice Forward View.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs everywhere are noticing a big difference in the number of patients seeking help for their mental health problems.
‘This may be because people are becoming more open about raising concerns about their mental health issues but, whatever the reason, we need to ensure that our GPs are as prepared as they possibly can be to deliver care to their patients.’
She added that she was ‘very encouraged’ that Mind was supporting the RCGP’s bid to extend GP training, which they have been calling for since 2012.
‘Today’s GPs are expert generalists and exceedingly competent, but the GP caseload has increased exponentially in both quantity and complexity in recent years. Patients with mental health issues deserve parity of esteem with those with physical health issues, and it is important that our GPs of the future are supported with a training programme that reflects the diversity and complexity of modern day general practice.’
HEE said it intends to investigate options around GP training in the future, as stated in its Draft Workforce strategy, and has promoted more access to formal psychiatry training in the Foundation Programme.
A spokesperson said: ‘HEE is supportive of all doctors having greater awareness skills in identifying and managing mental health issues.’