As a registered mental health nurse of 17 years, I was used to working in a community mental health team. But I knew I had more to give. Taking the opportunity to work as a mental health practitioner (MHP) in a GP practice in September 2020 was very new to me, but also very important. I wanted to make sure people could receive fast and effective care in the right place, first time. I am proud to be one of a growing number of mental health practitioners, with around 950 of us now working in primary care networks (PCNs) across the country, working in nearly two thirds all PCNs, as of winter 2022/23.
I enjoy working for Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) which provides care for 23,000 people in Norfolk and Suffolk at any one time. Within the trust I wanted to work closely with primary care as part of a service that sees MHPs working in GP practices across the Norfolk and Waveney area. This is a good example of partnership working across the system, supporting NSFT’s ambition to promote integration as part of its recovery plan.
The aim of MHPs is to better integrate primary care and specialist mental health services, offering improved access in the community to treatments that will meet the needs of people locally and reduce health inequalities. We also work closely with primary care mental health professionals, including colleagues from NHS Talking Therapies services, to ensure people presenting with anxiety and depression get the right treatment, from appropriately trained staff, as early as possible.
Our work means people get timely support, rather than becoming more unwell. NHS data shows a 25% increase in new referrals to community mental health services since April 2020 (as of December 2022). Our local data shows that half of people seen by an MHP like myself are offered follow-up interventions in primary care, and less than 3% of people seen by MHPs were referred to secondary care. This means that people are getting care quicker and closer to their homes.
I am proud to support the ambition of ‘no wrong door to accessing mental health care’. The role of the MHP is critical in promoting new ways of working, with colleagues in GP surgeries supported by mental health experts such as myself, and patients receiving care for both their physical and mental health in the same place. By creating new partnerships, MHPs can work jointly with primary care and community services, delivering the support people need while releasing pressures on the system.
We are bridging the gap between what was traditionally two services and better connecting local mental health services. This is improving the lives of people in their local areas and feedback from people that have used the service is positive:
“I felt I was heard and not judged, and I was given great examples of how to manage my mental health”.
“I felt listened to, I feel the support from the service is very good and without this there is nothing like this in my area”.
“I firmly believe this service should be available in every GP surgery”.
Colleagues have also shared positive feedback with me:
“Having MHPs working in our practices is vital; GPs remain the main point of contact for their patients’ care, with MHPs offering support and additional expertise for patients with more complex mental health needs”, says Dr Ardyn Ross.
My MHP colleagues and I work directly with patients, but also their families and carers. I have certainly felt working in GP practices is a valuable experience in my career. Being able to offer appointments of around 30-40 minutes long, and follow-up appointments when needed, really gives time and value to people’s needs and has facilitated conversations that have given them the opportunity and permission to really provide their mental health with the attention it deserves.
We use approaches specifically developed to make routine appointments therapeutically effective, such as ‘dialog’, a recognised solution focused approach which research shows can improve a person’s quality of life.
MHPs are demonstrating the benefits and better outcomes of working in an integrated way. We know that locating MHPs in primary care, and improving access to specialist advice and treatment, is good for patients, helpful for providers and will ease system pressures. It just makes sense.
I have loved working as an MHP and can only recommend this career path. There is more to do, if you want to come and work with us please visit NSFT website.
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