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GPs and practice nurses inadequately trained in mental health

New report calls for ‘structured mental health training’

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 01 November 2016

GPs and practice nurses are inadequately trained in mental health.

This is the finding from new statistics published today by the mental health charity Mind. 

Data obtained by the charity shows that in England, on average, less than half (46%) of trainee GPs undertook a training placement in a mental health setting.

Furthermore, the only mental health-related option offered to trainee GPs was in psychiatry, which is hospital-based and secondary care-focussed. 

Once qualified, none of the hours GPs spend on Continued Professional Development (CPD) need to have a mental-health component. This is despite an estimated one in three GP appointments being related to mental health.

The report found that practice nurses were similarly ill-prepared. More than four in five (82%) said they feel ill-equipped to deal with aspects of mental health for which they are responsible. More than two in five (42%) said they had had no mental health training at all.

The vast majority of people with mental health problems who do get treatment are seen within primary care – 81% first come into contact with mental health services via their GP, with 90% receiving treatment solely in primary care settings.

In its report ‘Better equipped, better care: Improving mental health training for GPs and practice nurses’, Mind calls on the Government to ensure all GPs and practice nurses receive structured mental health training that is comprehensive, relevant and supports their ongoing development.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said: “For most of us, our local GP practice is the first place we go when we’re unwell – whether it’s related to our physical or mental health. GPs and practice nurses have an incredibly difficult job to do, under enormous pressure and demands.

“A significant number of patients they come into contact with will have experienced mental health problems, yet many primary care staff tell us they haven’t had sufficient training to be able to deal with them. That’s why we’re urging the Government to ensure structured training is in place for trainee and qualified GPs and practice nurses.”

Responding to today’s report, Professor Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Mental health is a key component of the RCGP training curriculum that all GP trainees must follow and demonstrate their competence in before they can practise independently as family doctors in the UK.

“We have been making the case for some time that specialist GP training should be extended from three to four years in order to focus more time on mental health, and child health, reflecting the changing GP caseload and the increasing number of patients who are presenting with mental health issues. We hope that today’s call from Mind will help strengthen our case.”

She added: “GPs must undertake Continuing Professional Development as part of their appraisal and revalidation, but it is not the remit – or wish – of the College to specify how GPs should do this or what particular areas they should focus on.”

Professor Baker, said today’s figures underline the “urgency of implementing the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View for greater investment in general practice services and for every GP practice to have access to a dedicated Mental Health therapist.”

“Mental health - and achieving parity of esteem with physical health - is an ongoing priority for the RCGP and we have developed a number of resources to support GPs and our teams to deliver the best possible care to our patients with mental health conditions.”

Kathryn Yates, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Professional Lead for Primary and Community Care, said: “Mental health problems account for a huge amount of the demand on primary and community services, but this is simply not reflected in the training available. All health and social care staff should view mental health as an essential part of their job…More training for primary care staff would not only help people to manage their mental health and wellbeing better, but could also ease pressure on other parts of the health service.”

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