Primary care is facing growing pressures due to a mental health crisis. More needs to be done to unify mental and physical healthcare, in recognition that they are ‘almost inseparable’, with each impacting on the other. Jen Trueland reports

General practice is under huge pressure, and mental health is a key driver of that, according to GP and primary care network lead Faris Al-Ramadani.

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He said there is an urgent requirement to find solutions that can help meet that growing and unmet need. That means looking at services in the round, rather than silo by silo.

“As a GP, you won’t be surprised at me telling you that demand is high across the board, but particularly in mental health,” said Dr Al-Ramadani, who is clinical director at Warwickshire East PCN and GP partner in Southam.

Covid impacted everybody, especially the young, he added.

“We’re seeing much higher levels of mental illness among our younger patients and population and that’s one area where perhaps our services haven’t been as well developed.”

More needs to be done to educate the public about the value of psychological interventions, he added, because too often people come to the GP looking for a pill to make them better. “There’s maybe not the understanding in society at large that psychological interventions are incredibly potent, and maybe people aren’t necessarily looking for those solutions.”

He believes that a menu of options is required, including for those with all levels of mental ill health – and says it’s frustrating not to be able to offer immediate help. “As a GP, it’s really hard to see a patient who is in imminent crisis – I don’t mean a super acute crisis that would be applicable to the crisis team – but the sort of crisis that lots of people are in at any one time, and being able to refer them to the improving access to psychological therapies service, but knowing that the waiting time could be four plus months.”

As a GP, he wants to be creative in offering patients help, and digital is an important part of that – his is one of the first PCNs to make SilverCloud’s solution available to patients. He also wants to see more done to unify mental and physical healthcare, in recognition that they are “almost inseparable”, with each impacting on the other.

His PCN is taking a holistic approach, he said, with an emphasis on wellbeing as well as health, and a strong focus on early intervention. “We’ve taken the PCN as a real opportunity to do something about this. The idea is that we have health and wellbeing coaches and social prescribing link workers. We’re looking at psychological therapies as well for early intervention – and we’re looking at digital solutions so that we can actually start intervening earlier.”

PCNs can form the core of a health and wellbeing service, he added. “We’re working really hard to make that evolve and grow into something sustainable.”

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