The Scottish Government has announced funding for 1,000 mental health advisers that will be based in GP practices.
The funding is due to increase annually, reaching an estimated £40m per year by 2024/25, the announcement said.
It will fund a previously made Government pledge for each GP practice to have access to ‘a mental health and wellbeing service’ by 2026, via the recruitment of ‘1,000 additional dedicated staff’ who would ‘direct social prescribing’.
The Scottish Government has so far invested £1.5m in local planning groups, with the aim to begin rolling out the model nationally starting from this spring.
Patients who require mental health support will be able to find a range of professionals available through their GP practice so they will not have to rely entirely on GP advice or referral elsewhere.
This may include mental health nurses, psychologists, peer support workers, occupational therapists, and link workers, the Scottish Government said.
A link worker will alsobe dedicated to every GP practice to improve community support including food banks, benefit support and addiction services, it added.
Mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart said the investment comes as mental ill health is ‘one of the major public health challenges in Scotland’.
He said: ‘We know the pandemic has had a significant impact, which is why mental health has remained a priority throughout our response to Covid-19.
‘Around a third of all GP consultations now has a mental health component. But the range and complexity of issues requires a more varied and comprehensive response.’
Deputy chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee Dr Andrew Cowie said the initiative was ‘welcome’, with GPs looking forward to ‘working with the Scottish Government to develop the scheme’.
‘Scotland’s mental health has suffered significantly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and we welcome the additional mental health staff that will allow for our patients to access support within their communities,’ he said.
‘GP practices are most people’s first point of contact and it is important that there is a range of help and services available there.’
The Scottish Government released local planning guidance last week to help commissioners plan and implement the new services.
It comes as in England, GPs have been asked to prioritise health checks of mental health patients as much as is feasible, including during vaccination appointments, to reduce health inequalities during the Covid-19 pandemic.