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Local commissioners plough £700,000 into talking therapies



A commissioning group has announced a £700,000 investment in primary care talking therapies in Belfast, in an attempt to cut the number of patients relying on medication.

Belfast Local Commissioning Group is paying for the talking therapies services – which will be delivered in a partnership between GPs, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, and voluntary and community sector organisations – following a trial in West Belfast, which started in June last year.

This comes as health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced last month that he plans to set maximum waiting times for patients who need to access talking therapies in England.

Dr Michael McKenna, a GP in West Belfast and a member of the BMA Northern Ireland GP committee, said of the Belfast investment: ‘The introduction of this scheme is a move in the right direction with regard to mental health services, as it should improve the patient experience.’

Belfast Local Commissioning Group chair Terry Maguire said: ‘The use of prescription drugs is significantly higher in Belfast than elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Often it has been the only option available to GPs to help patients cope. This new service will offer them an alternative to help give patients the support they need to develop their own coping skills. GPs will be able to refer patients to a referral hub where a multidisciplinary team, made up of mental health professionals, GPs and representatives from voluntary and community organisations, will work together to consider an appropriate care plan for the patient.’

He added: ‘This investment means patients who experience significant pressures affecting their health and well being will have alternatives to medication.’