Exclusive Four CCGs have said they will step in to fund confidential mental health advice for GPs, as NHS England continues to stall on rolling out national support.
NHS Herts Valley CCG, NHS North and East Hertfordshire CCG and NHS Luton CCG have all committed to fund a Practitioner Health Project (PHP) that will allow GPs to self-refer to talk in confidence to a specialist as well as allow employer or GP referral, LMC leaders told Pulse.
NHS Bedfordshire CCG has said it too wants to fund the services for its practices, after it has addressed a £43m deficit.
The CCGs have not yet set a launch date but the confidential service is aimed at allowing struggling GPs to be identified before they reach a crisis point that could put patients at risk and result in costly absences or treatments.
The commitment marks a significant negotiating effort on behalf of local LMC leaders in the face of GP occupational health services being dramatically cut back around the country.
Last year, NHS England pledged to provide every GP with ‘high quality’ occupational health support, but this has yet to materialise. This comes despite Pulse’s GP Burnout Survey revealing that rising numbers of struggling GPs .are at risk of burning out completely.
Hertfordshire LMC chief executive Peter Graves, who has been leading the effort on behalf of local GPs, said it is estimated to cost the CCGs just £35-39 per GP, or £132,500 per year across the three Hertfordshire CCGs.
He said he could ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’ after years of negotiating efforts ‘to get a proper, confidential, practitioner health programme locally’.
Dr Graves said: ‘I have now got, in principle, the agreement of my four local CCGs to fund this for GPs, and to commission it for all doctors working in the area.’
NHS Herts Valley CCG GP chair Dr Nicolas Small said: ‘This will help all of us to maintain high quality and resilient health and social care services for the people of West Hertfordshire.
‘GPs are extremely busy caring for their patients and sometimes the importance of their own physical and mental well-being is forgotten.’
Earlier this year Pulse revealed that a ‘gold standard’ GP occupational health service was stripped of funding in Devon, while in London the PHP had to shut its doors earlier this year after a ‘massive increase’ in demand.
Dr Graves said it was ‘outrageous’ that NHS managers had not put in place a national scheme as promised.
He said: ‘We’re talking about something like £35 to £39 per doctor working in the area. We are not talking vast sums of money to protect patients from ill doctors. So it’s outrageous that NHS England has been stalling on this – well I can only blame NHS England for the past 18 months – but the Department of Health has been stalling on this for ten years plus.’
Pulse has been campaigning for comprehensive occupational health support, including mental health, for GPs as part of its Battling Burnout campaign.