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GPs need more time to treat complex needs

Psychiatric medicines advice is lacking

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 02 October 2019

People prescribed medication for their mental health aren’t being given enough information about side effects by their GPs.

This is the finding from Mind’s annual Big Mental Health survey, with one in three patients saying they would have liked side effects explained.

The 2018 survey results of more than 12,000 respondents found that, when prescribed new medication for their mental health:

  • Only one in five people (21%) said they were definitely given an explanation about the side effects that the medication might have.
  • More than one in two people (53%) said they didn’t receive enough information about the purpose of their new medication.

GPs receive no mandatory practice-based training in mental health, despite more than 40% of all appointments involving mental health and that demand is rising. Of all GPs who finished their training in 2017, less than half (46%) completed an optional psychiatry placement.

Mind is calling for a wider range of training in mental health settings to be available for GPs so they can feel equipped and confident to provide quality support for anyone struggling with their mental health, supporting them to make informed decisions about their treatment.

Mind’s director of external relations, Sophie Corlett, says: “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. 

“GPs do an extremely difficult job often under inadequate time restraints. 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.

“We know prescriptions of certain psychiatric medication are on the rise, for example, 6% more prescriptions for antidepressants were given out in 2016/17 than the year before. Medication can be effective in managing symptoms of mental health problems, but not for everyone. It is critical people are told about potential adverse side effects, such as suicidal thoughts and self-harm, so they can make informed choices.

“People should be offered a range of treatments. But we know at a time of rising demand, mental health services are stretched, leaving GPs often feeling they have few referral options available. The NHS Long Term Plan comes with funding to improve mental health services and should result in GPs being better able to refer patients to a wider variety of treatments beyond medication, whether that’s talking therapies or social prescribing – signposting to alternative treatments such as arts therapy or exercise.”

Responding to the survey results, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs are specialist prescribers and will only recommend medications based on the individual circumstances of a patient, taking into account physical, psychological and social 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. We also ask patients, wherever possible, to familiarise themselves with the comprehensive information leaflets that should come included with every pack of their medication.

“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, she added: “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.

“The College is also calling for longer GP training, based in appropriate community settings so that our future doctors are as prepared as they possibly can be to deal with the complexities of modern-day general practice.”

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