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NHS England launches new measures to help GPs and patients access the care they need

A world-first nationally funded service to support GPs and GP trainees suffering mental ill-health and addiction goes live next week while 11 areas have been chosen to pilot new ways of retaining GPs who are considering leaving the profession so their skills can continue benefitting patients.

From Monday January 30, the NHS GP Health Service will provide confidential mental health support for GPs and GP trainees suffering from mental ill-health and addiction.

This free and confidential service will take self-referrals and be provided through a regional network of experienced clinicians and therapists across 13 areas in England, who will deliver support for a range of conditions including:

  • Common and more complex mental health conditions
  • Mental health conditions relating to physical health
  • Substance misuse including support for community detoxification
  • Rehabilitation and support to return to work after a period of mental ill-health.

The service has been developed by NHS England and others, including the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee, Health Education England, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the General Medical Council (GMC) in response to calls from the profession for greater support. The new service is run by the Hurley Clinic Partnership who currently provide the London-based NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP). One GP who has used the service is ‘Dr. S’

Dr S, was a partner in a busy urban practice. The senior partner had recently retired and the three other partners had to extend clinical sessions to provide cover. A busy workload and external roles became more and more of a struggle which meant his family life was being neglected.

Dr S then received a complaint from a patient, which led to sleepless nights and feeling that he had let his partners down. It was a real hit to his morale and he began to feel less confident, eventually handing in his notice. However one of his partners suggested he contact PHP.

After explaining his situation and feelings and admitting the need for help he was offered some practical solutions as well as access to a therapist. Six months later the practice is as busy as ever but Dr S feels he is back to enjoying life as a GP and is now helping his doctor colleagues to manage their own day to day pressures.

“I had lost my love for the GP job, a job I had wanted to do all my life. I thought it was time to walk away but thanks to PHP I now feel I have brought the enjoyment back into the role. I am relishing my responsibilities and enjoying every day. I would have been a GP on the rubbish heap if it wasn’t for this kind of support service.”

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England Medical Director, said: “Being  a GP is tough. It requires a deep knowledge of medicine, an ability to separate the serious from the trivial, coupled with compassion. As the number and complexity of consultations grows, so does the stress of the job. This takes its toll. Both sickness and early retirement rates are rising.  These pilot schemes aim to offer help on both fronts to key members of the profession who contribute so much to the lives of so many.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Being a GP can be an incredibly stressful job, so it’s no wonder that the intense resource and workforce pressures currently facing our profession are increasingly taking their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of family doctors.

“GPs and GP trainees have been crying out for something like this new GP NHS Health Service for some time, so this is an incredibly welcome development – and it was a key pledge in NHS England’s GP Forward View – as we strive to ensure we have a healthy workforce who can deliver the best possible, safe patient care to over 1.3m patients everyday.”

Professor Clare Gerada, Medical Director of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, said:  “This is an amazing investment by NHS England and illustrates their real commitment to the well-being of England’s GPs. We know that this type of service works in restoring mentally unwell doctors to health and to the job they love.”

Today NHS England is also announcing 11 areas across the country that will pilot a new scheme to keep hold of the vital skills and experience of GPs on the verge of leaving .

Developed with the Royal College of General Practitioners, British Medical Association and Health Education England, the 12-month pilot will look to recruit around 80 GPs at risk of leaving the profession. The GPs will be recruited into a general practice pool in each area that works across that health system and could provide clinical cover for sickness and holidays, carry out home visits and provide support for practices in crisis.

Helen Stokes-Lampard continued: “We are also delighted to see the pilot of the GP Career Plus scheme being rolled out across England – something spearheaded by the College as we outlined five ideas to better retain the GP workforce in a letter to the Secretary of State for Health last year.

“Experienced GPs have so much to offer our profession and our patients, and incentives to keep them practising on the front line of patient care for as long as possible will be to the benefit of general practice, the wider NHS and most importantly our patients.”

The pools are expected to go live this summer and if the model is proved to be successful, may be advocated for use by CCGs or providers to help support more GP retention. The areas chosen for the pilot are:

NHS England Region CCG area Lead employer identified
Midlands & East Birmingham South & Central CCG Our Health Partnership
Midlands & East North Staffordshire CCG and Stoke-on-Trent CCG North Staffordshire GP Federation
Midlands & East NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG Heath East
North NHS Vale Royal CCG and NHS South Cheshire CCG South Cheshire and Vale Royal GP Alliance
North NHS Lancashire North CCG Lancashire North GP Federation
North NHS Hull CCG Community Healthcare Partnerships (CHCP)
South NHS Hastings and Rother CCG Integrated Family Healthcare Ltd
South NHS Somerset CCG Somerset Primary Healthcare Ltd
South NHS Fareham and Gosport CCG and South Eastern Hampshire CCG FGSEH Primary Care Alliances
(South Eastern Hampshire GP Alliance Ltd and Fareham and Gosport GP Alliance Ltd)
London NHS Newham CCG Newham Health Collaborative Ltd
London NHS Waltham Forest CCG Waltham Forest GP Federated Network (FedNet)