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Polyclinics 'threat' to treating mental illness

The Mental Health Foundation warns that Darzi plans could damage care

Mark Gould

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Mental Health Foundation has warned that the polyclinics debate ignores mental health care. It says GP spend around a third of their consultation time  on mental health problems and there is no evidence that polyclinics will improve care for mental health patients.
With 90% of people with mental health problems receiving all their treatment from primary care services, the Foundation says there is an urgent need to examine how the proposed shift away from GP surgeries to much larger polyclinics will impact on the primary care of these patients.

It is particularly concerned that people may be more reluctant to seek help from a large polyclinic than from a familiar GP.
The debate over polyclinics has so far focused almost exclusively on how polyclinics will affect physical health care, says Foundation chief executive Dr Andrew McCulloch. He says the impact of polyclinics on mental health care is "unproven and potentially damaging". 
"It’s essential that polyclinics have a positive impact on mental health care  – at the moment there is little evidence of this, in fact, little evidence that anyone has asked the right questions on the subject.  It would be absurd to introduce such sweeping reforms without taking proper account of the needs of such a large proportion of primary care patients."
The aim of polyclinics is to reduce the need for patients to be referred to hospital-based services and provide a wider range of services in one location. Such a model would only improve mental health care if much more attention is paid to the basics of service provision, according to the Foundation.  

Dr McCulloch added: "If we’re serious about improving primary mental health care then we can’t assume that polyclinics will provide all the answers.  What will make things better for patients is better training for staff and faster access to secondary lines of treatment such as talking therapies. It’s far from clear whether putting services in the same building will in itself help to achieve those things."
The Mental Health Foundation will be publishing a short policy briefing on the impact of polyclinics on mental health care tomorrow to coincide with the parliamentary opposition day debate on polyclinics.  The briefing will be available for download here

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