Primary mental health care should be at the heart of the NHS long-term plan, a report has said.
Little investment has traditionally been allocated to primary mental health care, due to a lack of focus on a national level, according to a report published yesterday by the Centre for Mental Health and the University of Birmingham.
There is no national mandate for establishing primary mental health care as a priority, the report said. This meant that GP practices and CCGs started developing different resources to meet their population needs, resulting in ‘variations in access and quality of provision’.
Existing primary care services, such as the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme do help, the report said.
The service, introduced in 2008 to assist adults with anxiety disorders and depression, helps almost one million people a year. However, it leaves out people with more complex mental health needs, according to the report.
The report added: ‘At the same time, specialist mental health services have faced many years of financial pressure and reductions in both inpatient and community service provision at a time of growing demand for their support.’
Commenting on the report, Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: ‘The IAPT programme has ensured more people than ever before now get psychological support for depression or anxiety.
‘But people with more complex problems are too often excluded from IAPT services or do not find them helpful. [However] many still do not meet the threshold for community mental health services. So we urgently need to invest in support that fills the chasm in between.’
‘GP services first port of call’
Ms Hughes added: ‘GP services are for most of us the first port of call in the NHS.
‘As demand for mental health services continues to rise, many people will rely entirely on primary care for mental health support. Yet primary mental health care has been ignored in successive NHS policies and strategies.’
According to a survey by Mind published in June, almost half of all GP consultations now include a mental health issue.
As part of the General Practice Forward View, NHS England pledged to recruit 3,000 mental health therapists to work in general practice by 2021.
According to a guidance document by NHS England to GPs, practice managers and commissioners issued in August, practices should have in-house mental health therapists, employed by IAPT services.
These would become full members of the practice team, getting referrals to GPs and other clinical staff, and self-referrals from patients.
The NHS long-term plan will seek to put mental and physical health on an equal footing, with mental health spending to increase by over £2bn a year by 2023/24, as revealed in the Budget announcement in October.