Exclusive A ‘gold-standard’ psychological support service has had to close after almost 25 years of supporting GPs suffering with stress and burnout after NHS England withdrew its funding last year.
A bid by GPs to keep open the service in Devon in Cornwall through an ‘insurance’ style funding model over the past year has had to be abandoned this month because the service was unviable.
GPs and other practitioners currently receiving support will see their treatment courses completed, but the scheme – which has helped more than 1,500 health professionals – is no longer accepting new cases.
The closure comes despite NHS chief executive Simon Stevens’s pledge to expand specialist practitioner pastoral support services, like the London Practitioner Health Programme, in September last year.
Pulse revealed in January last year that NHS England was removing the funding for Devon and Cornwall’s Specialist Psychological Support Service (SPSS), which was described by local leaders as a ‘wilful destruction’.
The NHS England local area team said that it would be replaced with a generic needle stick and occupation health service from April 2015.
In response, local leaders initiated an insurance style scheme, which would cost GPs £150 to access mental health services. Devon Doctors – who took over operation of SPSS last year – said it hoped to be able to continue the scheme to 2017.
However, in a bulletin to local GPs on behalf of SPSS, Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said that applications for the new insurance model had been ‘meagre’ and, as a result, would have to close this month.
Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘It is with huge sadness that I have to announce that as of 1st April 2016 the Specialist Psychological Support Service (SPSS) will cease to operate.’
‘There is now a very significant concern in my mind regarding how we will help increasingly stressed dentists and GPs in the absence of such a service. In the first instance, if anyone is feeling in need of help, then the advice is to contact your local pastoral support network who will be able to signpost you to appropriate services.’
‘For now though it falls to me to call time on 25 years of caring for the carers.’
NHS England is currently developing psychological support services to bolster the newly specified national GP occupational health service, but the GPC has warned that it may lead to other gold-standard services – such as the SPSS – being replaced by inferior services.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England is committed to developing a programme of follow-up services to improve GPs’ access to mental health support including combatting stress and burnout. We are working closely with others across the health service to scope this out, with a view to putting together a nationally available service by the end of the year.’
Pulse’s battle to improve psychological services for GPs
Match – stress – burnout – online
Pulse has been campaigning for mental health support to be available to all GPs through its Battling Burnout campaign.
The campaign has been credited with ’shifting the prevailing wind’ on the issue and has secured support from NHS England chair Professor Malcolm Grant ahead of Simon Stevens’s pledge last year.
But services like the SPSS are going under despite pledges of support, and research by Pulse shows that the need these services is higher than ever, with a study of 2,230 GPs revealing half were at high risk of burnout.