Specialist mental health support at GP practices in Northumberland
Friday 17 December 2021
Specialist health care workers are delivering early mental health assistance to patients at GP practices in Northumberland.
Mental health practitioners are providing consultations, advice, triage, and liaison with other services to enable patients to receive early mental health advice when they first visit their GP practice, without the need to wait for lengthy referrals.
Six practitioners are working across the six Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in Northumberland. These are local networks made up of GP practices working together with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services provide better access to healthcare.
Patients can be referred to a mental health practitioner following an appointment with their GP or discharge from hospital. In some areas, patients can also request an appointment directly with the practitioner when they contact their surgery.
Kate O’Brien, senior head of commissioning, child health, learning disabilities and mental health at Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said, “We know how important it is to provide mental health support for people at an early stage, so problems do not escalate, and we know there is a need for more mental health support in Northumberland – especially when considering the extra pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – and we are constantly looking at new ways for people to access support.”
“Our mental health practitioners have had a really positive response from staff and patients. Patients have commented on feeling more included in their care through discussions about different options and have also commented on how reassured they feel knowing they can return to the practice for further specialised mental health support and advice from the practitioner if they need to.”
The practitioners are acting as the link between GP practices and mental health services. They are able to undertake initial patient triage to assess individual needs and help offer the right support and stabilisation before signposting to the most appropriate service. This may include community and voluntary services, social prescribing, self-help resources or referral to more appropriate services for Severe Mental Illnesses (SMI).
They are also helping patients with treatment options such as medication reviews, so that they can take charge of their medical decisions.
Clare Houghton, mental health practitioner for the Cramlington and Seaton Valley PCN said: “I’m so thrilled to be working as a mental health practitioner to help people manage their mental health closer to home.
“We know how much the past 18 months has taken its toll and it’s so important we have these mechanisms in place to help people – whether that be from providing simple wellbeing tips to arranging referrals for more serious mental health problems.
“An example of how we support patients can be explained by how I recently supported someone. The person had always suffered with mental health difficulties, but never really knew what was wrong. I saw them in their GP practice recently, and with just a couple of follow up appointments, they have been able to engage in education and recovery tips. They now understand more about what to do if they become unwell again.”