Two GPs who helped to create a mental health referral team during the height of the first lock-down have shared with the College of Medicine the challenges and successes of its first year in operation.
The Andover Primary Care Mental Health Team covers five surgeries within the Andover Primary Care Network and has a total patient population of around 62,000. Two of those surgeries are in the top five for deprivation scores in the CCG.
Dr Ruth Dyson and Dr Katie Warburton, lead GPs for the new service, say building a team equipped to support the mental health and well-being of patients in Primary Care when it was no longer possible to meet in person as Covid restrictions tightened was ‘a very interesting time’.
Dr Dyson explains: “We’d had a six-month build up of planning and organising – and then the pandemic hit. We had a really big headache trying to find space to accommodate practitioners.
“We had to move everything to Microsoft Teams online and to start to work and recruit remotely; there was a lot of learning in the early days!”
She continues: “It certainly allowed us to get going though and I think everybody recognised that there was going to be a huge mental health need because of lock-down, which made us even more determined to provide support focused on patient well-being and social connection.”
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The team includes a raft of healthcare professionals from psychological practitioners to well-being coaches and social prescribers, who work with local community services – including housing, drug and alcohol support and social care – to offer holistic support to patients.
In its first year alone, the service, which supports people from aged 11 to 70 and is funded in part by the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and in part by the Primary Care Network (PCN), received 657 referrals.
Of those referrals more than half were supported within the Primary Care mental health team, with just 3 per cent of patients referred on to Secondary Care mental health services.
Patient feedback has been positive, with one saying an initial assessment quickly ‘pinpointed my specific needs’ while another added: “The service provided was amazing and having it at the time I really needed it has meant that my learning to adapt and cope with my illness has happened far faster than otherwise.”
Dr Warburton says most patients have embraced the chance to have their voices heard without long waits for Secondary Care appointments.
She explains: “People are generally quite receptive to the idea of doing things a bit differently, especially because they’re given a half-hour appointment, so I think they get a real chance to talk about what’s important to them.”
Dr Dyson adds that taking an integrated approach to health is becoming more prominent across the NHS and services such as the one being rolled out in their region will only increase: “It’s about recognising the social determinants of disease; we know loneliness, for example, has a massive impact on mortality.
“Mental health and physical health are not completely separate – they’re very integrated and and I think within conventional medicine, there is more of a recognition of the holistic approach, it’s becoming more mainstream.”