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Books on Prescriptions is one of the few mental health schemes not yet in crisis

I have been a GP for 24 years and have seen an ever-increasing number of people suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression.

I recently attended a whole day conference in Exeter looking at psychotherapy provision in the county. Psychological services in Devon are currently at breaking point with unprecedented demand. There are increasingly lengthy waiting lists, so seriously unwell people often have many months and sometimes over a year to wait to be get appropriate treatment.

The demand on general practice has never been so great, and the current system is unsustainable. So any scheme that helps patients take control of their own health is to be wholeheartedly supported. The Books on Prescription scheme is a perfect example of this – and it’s one of the few mental health schemes in England that isn’t in crisis at the moment.

Books on Prescription is a tool helping the patient to better understand their condition and receive expert guidance on how to improve their lives by ‘prescribing’ the patient some reading materials that tackle symptoms of depression and anxiety..

This is not a new idea, indeed many surgeries have lent books to patients over the years. But now the NHS has given its blessing this approach by launching an official reading scheme.

How it works

Books on Prescription is not aimed at those with serious psychiatric conditions, but by reducing demand from the less seriously unwell, it helps make available appointments and resources for those who really need them. It reduces the need to prescribe medication, or refer patients to CBT or other psychological therapies.

Empowering patients to take control of their own health is becoming one of the bedrocks of future development of health care in this country.

And they appreciate being able to source expert advice from NHS-recommended sources. Through their local library, this approach costs them nothing to pursue.

I reckon each day I personally see two or three people who I signpost to this service.

If I assess Books on Prescription to be appropriate treatment for patients, I give them the pamphlet and tell them to go and browse though the books and find one that suits them. Every book is approved by the Royal Colleges as being easy to read and follow.

The books can be borrowed for two weeks, and if they think that the book is to their liking, they can subsequently buy their own copy.

The only downside I have found is that because the scheme is so successful, patients sometimes come back saying that the book they wanted was not available.

The scheme is planning to expand the subject matter of its selection cover coping with divorce, dementia and bereavement, teenager issues and parenting. Public libraries in the UK are a great untapped resource, and I hope that the benefits of the Books on Prescription scheme will soon extend to new self-help areas.

Dr Niall MacLeod is a GP in Exeter.