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Some GPs ‘come out with rubbish’ around mental health, says health and care minister

GPs’ attitudes to mental health need to change in order to achieve true parity of esteem for mental and physical ill health, with some having a ‘rubbish’ attitude, health and care minister Norman Lamb claimed today.

Speaking at a conference on psychological therapies Mr Lamb said he believed all GPs needed core training in mental health, and that while some GPs ‘totally get it’ others ‘come out with rubbish’.

Mr Lamb was responding to a question during a session on ‘the mental health gap’ from a service user who asked when would all health professionals start taking mental problems seriously, after being told ‘to stop watching TV and go for a walk’.

Mr Lamb said: ‘Well I totally accept the central point that there is an enormous way to go still. And one of the things that is essential is attitudes of clinicians towards mental health…I happen to believe every GP needs to be centrally trained in mental health and we’re not there yet.

‘Attitudes in primary care are very variable, you get some great GPs who really get it and others who just come out with the rubbish you just described there.’

Mr Lamb also spoke about the Government’s new access and waiting time standards due to come into force in April, which he said would be critical to bringing mental health care in line with assessment and treatment of physical problems – and should include measurement of access to the ‘right’ form of talking therapy for the individual rather than just any treatment.

However, Labour shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said that in addition to waiting time standards for talking therapies – also enshrined in Labour’s health policyLabour’spledge to make access to psychological therapies a right set down in the NHS constitution would also be key.

Citing a Pulse investigation which revealed over 80% of GPs had felt forced to prescribe antidepressants because patients were facing long delays for talking therapies, Ms Berger said: ‘A recent survey of GPs… showed 84% said they had been forced to treat their patients with medication instead of talking therapy because they couldn’t be helped by their local IAPT service.’

She added: ‘We must… ensure therapies enjoy the same status as other kinds of treatments on our health service. I refer again to that GP survey – we know GPs too often reach for medication as opposed to talking therapies. We’ve said we want to update the NHS constitution to ensure that patients have the same right to talking therapies as they currently have for drugs and medical treatments.

‘We will ensure that psychological therapies are given the priority they deserve and send a very strong signal to commissioners about the importance of commissioning these services.’

Speaking to Pulse, Ms Berger said: ‘At the moment there’s no right within the NHS constitution to talking therapies. That for us is absolutely key that we should change that.’

She added: ‘We’ve also talked about whole-person care – that in and of itself we think will make a massive difference, to treat the whole person rather than one symptom at a time. That’s very different to what anyone else is saying.

‘We are also seeking to invest an extra £2.5bn a year into the NHS which will create 20,000 more nurses, which will have a positive impact on mental health and GPs too, including addressing the issue of training. There are thousands of GPs already doing training in mental health but more needs to be done.’

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