A dedicated treatment service for GP mental health already has a caseload of over 500 patients, despite only launching at the end of January.
Some 508 GPs are now registered as active cases with the service, after it had some 50 GPs seek treatment already in the first week of its launch.
Following lenghty lobbying for Government funding – including via Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign – any registered GP in England with a mental health issue may refer themselves to the service by phone or online.
The GP Health Service chief executive Lucy Warner said that the numbers were ‘higher than expected but not excessive’.
She added: ‘It is great that so many GPs and GP trainees are accessing the support they need.’
The service, run by the Practitioner Health Service (PHP) handles the majority of patients internally through a multidisciplinary team of clinicians experienced in treating health professionals.
The team includes GPs, psychiatrists, specialist nurse practitioners and a range of therapists, and as a result their external referrals are very low.
Ms Warner said: ‘Occasionally we refer for in-patient addiction care but this is tiny numbers… One of the key things for the service is to support doctors when they need to self-disclose and to do so safely.
‘GPs are under pressure and unlikely to access mainstream NHS services when they need support, primarily due to issues of stigma and confidentiality.’
The PHP has only notified employers or regulators on a ‘handful of occasions’, according to Ms Warner, who emphasised that these occurred because the patient was unwilling or unable to self-disclose.
‘We would never notify the regulator without the knowledge of the doctor,’ she said.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The [large number of GPs seeking help] comes as no surprise as GPs are working under intolerable pressure and strain and at a time when eight out of 10 GPs do not feel that they can provide safe, quality care.
‘I suspect that this is the tip of the iceberg – large number of GPs are struggling on a daily basis to cope with incredible stress, such as regulatory pressures.’
Professor Clare Gerada, a GP in South East London and a PHP medical director, has previously said that ‘practice meltdown’ is the biggest driver for GP’s seeking help, suffering from conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The GP mental health service
The service is commissioned by NHS England as part of the General Practice Five Year View and is intended to improve recruitment, retention and returns to general practice.
The majority of cases so far concern common mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD. Around one in ten relate to a major mental health issue such as psychosis, bipolar disorder or an addiction.
A forerunner to the service, the Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), has been running for nine years offerings mental health support to doctors and dentists in London.
The service is not intended to be a replacement for conventional NHS services, and GPs currently receiving treatment from mainstream services are encouraged to continue to do so.