For most of us, our local GP practice is the first place we go when we're unwell - whether it's related to our physical or mental health. That's why it's surprising to learn that less than half (46 per cent) of trainee GPs in England undertook a training placement in a mental health setting in 2015, according to data obtained from Mind.
Our new report 'Better equipped, better care: Improving mental health training for GPs and practice nurses' draws on the experiences of patients, GPs and practice nurses to highlight how little training GPs and practice nurses are offered in mental health. This is despite the fact that 81 per cent of people who do get treatment for their mental health first come into contact with mental health services via their GP, with 90 per cent of people receiving treatment and care for their mental health problem solely in primary care settings.
Currently, the only mental health-related option offered to trainee GPs is in psychiatry, which is based in hospitals and secondary care (not primary care) focussed. Although many GPs who opted to train in psychiatry tell us the experience was invaluable, a psychiatric setting doesn't bear that much relevance to the patients they'll be dealing with day to day in their surgeries once they've qualified, many of whom will have more common mental health problems like depression and anxiety, rather than more severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and psychosis which is more of the day to day in secondary care.
Once GPs have qualified, they have to do a certain amount of ongoing training so they can continue to practice, but at the moment, none of this needs to have a mental health component. This doesn't make sense when you bear in mind that an estimated one in three GP appointments are related to mental health. Given how many patients are coming through their doors with mental health problems, it's no wonder many GPs are telling us they don't feel they've had adequate training to be able to do their jobs.
Practice nurses are being let down too. More than four in five (82 per cent) practice nurses said they feel ill-equipped to deal with aspects of mental health for which they're responsible. More than two in five (42 per cent) said they'd had no mental health training at all. They too will frequently be coming into contact with mental health problems.
Another issue that both GPs and practice nurses come into frequent contact with is the difficult interplay between mental and physical health, including the emotional impact of long term physical health conditions. Supporting the mental health of people with long term conditions such as diabetes or stroke have been shown to have a dramatic impact on people's long term prognosis. But staff need to be equipped to deal with these patients too with competence and confidence.
Given how big a role primary care staff play for people with mental health problems, Mind is asking the Government to ensure all GPs and practice nurses receive structured mental health training that is comprehensive, relevant and supports their ongoing development.
GPs and practice nurses have an incredibly difficult job to do, under enormous pressure and demands. In order to alleviate some of this pressure they experience on a daily basis, and get the best outcomes for patients, trainee and qualified GPs and practice nurses should have the opportunity to undertake structured training in mental health. This would help ensure they have the knowledge and confidence to provide quality mental health support to the many patients coming through their doors who are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, as well as being better able to identify signs of stress and poor mental health in themselves and their colleagues.
As part of our primary care campaign, Mind has launched a petition calling on Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to improve mental health training for trainee GPs and practice nurses.