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Integrated mental health care cuts demand for GPs

Demand for GP appointments reduced by better mental health care for patients with physical disease

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Demand for GP appointments can be greatly reduced by better mental health care for patients with physical disease, it appears from the results of a pilot scheme. NHS England, which has been running the pilot, added that offering access to physical activity alongside talking therapies not only benefits patients but can also save taxpayers money.

The NHS started trialling new services that integrate mental and physical treatments in 2016, as part of its Improving Access to Talking Therapies programme. These have involved offering a whole-person assessment to people with long-term conditions including diabetes, heart disease or respiratory disease, looking in particular at how additional mental health care might help them to manage their condition.

NHS England said it believed that people are better able to manage their condition in the long-term when they are helped to cope with the associated pain and stress, which in turn reduces their demand on health and care services. It added that mental health problems can make it harder to tackle physical conditions as well as costing the health system about 50% more, if left untreated, and that offering access to physical activity alongside talking therapies is therefore beneficial to patients and can save taxpayers money.

In Sunderland, patients with long-term conditions can see psychological wellbeing workers and are offered a pain management class, combining physical care with mental health therapy. Another of the pilots, in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, involved almost 500 people. This resulted in:

  • a 73% reduction in demand for GP appointments
  • an almost two-thirds (61%) reduction in A&E attendances
  • and a reduction by three-quarters in hospital admissions.
The Clinical Commissioning Group said it estimated that integrating care had saved nearly £200,000 in spending over the several months of piloting new services, as well as improving patients’ health.

National director of mental health at NHS England Claire Murdoch said: “Effective NHS mental health care for people with long-term illness is a game-changer for our patients and good news for taxpayers. By integrating talking therapies with treatment for diabetes and heart conditions, NHS patients get care for mind and body at the same time.

“Anyone who has to deal on a daily basis with the pain of arthritis or a serious backache knows that it not only slows you down physically but darkens your mood, sometimes leading to serious mental ill health. As the NHS turns 70, integrated talking therapy services are a big step forward for our patients and a crucial part of putting mental health at the centre of our plans for the future of the health service in England.”

Separately, the Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that, with Samaritans, it has launched its ‘biggest ever mental health awareness week’, with new confidential support for personnel on operations. This will include offering online and face to face training in listening skills to serving personnel and families; a confidential webchat service to allow military personnel to talk in confidence with trained staff; and pocket guides that provide information and emotional support for people in isolated locations, particularly on operations.

And this morning, the Royal College of Nursing called for suicide prevention training to be introduced for all nursing staff, because half of nurses said they hadn’t received any training in suicide prevention or awareness since starting work, and 60% hadn’t received any as part of their nursing degree.

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