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Longer GP appointments needed to ensure proper mental health care, says RCGP

GPs need longer appointments in order to better manage patients with mental health problems, the RCGP has said. 

It comes after a mental health charity warned patients were not getting enough information about side effects when prescribed antidepressants and called for better GP training.

But RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the standard 10-minute appointment time is ‘simply inadequate’ for patients with complex problems such as mental health conditions.

Mind’s annual mental health survey of more than 12,000 people in 2018 found that one in five people were definitely given an explanation about the side effects of the medicine they were prescribed and 50% were not given enough detail about what the medicine was for.

In response, the charity said GP trainees need access to a wider range of experience in mental health settings.

Mind’s director of external relations, Sophie Corlett, said: ‘Our research revealed that a worrying number of us are receiving life-changing treatment without fully understanding what it involves. This has got to change.

She added that GPs do an extremely difficult job often under inadequate time restraints.

She said: ‘But, with GPs often the first port of call for mental health support, it’s crucial they have the opportunity to get the training they need to support patients to have the information to make decisions about their treatment.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard, said that as specialist prescribers GPs will only recommend medications based on the individual circumstances of a patient, taking into account a range of factors and after a full and frank discussion around treatment options.

‘This will always aim to include any common or potentially serious side effects, and an expectation of how long medication may take to work.

‘Patients who have been prescribed medication for mental health conditions will be invited to have regular medicine reviews with their GP, and pharmacists will also be able to help with any queries or concerns.

‘However, general practice is under extreme pressures and the standard 10-minute GP consultation is simply inadequate to properly deliver care to patients with complex health needs – which mental health conditions invariably are. We need greater investment in general practice so that we can spend more time with our patients,’ she added.

In May, the RCGP called for 15-minute appointment times to be the future of general practice, along with manageable workload

It follows calls to review a mental health referral form after the death of a 15-year-old boy. A coroner called it a ‘risk’ to expect GPs to extract sufficient information to fill in the current form with a 10-minute appointment.