Increasing the number of mental health clinicians in GP surgeries must be a priority for the next Scottish Government, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in Scotland has said.
The RCGP has launched a manifesto of key policy demands for Scotland’s political parties ahead of May’s Holyrood election.
The professional body for GPs said the next Scottish Government has a “real opportunity to revolutionise the mental health care that patients receive” after the pandemic and called for more support for the mental wellbeing of frontline health staff.
Warning that the coronavirus pandemic has “created a crisis in mental health” that is likely to have a “long-term, damaging impact on the health of the nation”, the RCGP says more mental health professionals are needed to support general practice.
The RCGP also urges political parties to commit to building up the GP workforce so that 15-minute appointments can become the standard – up from the pre-pandemic average of approximately ten minutes – while continuing to incorporate face-to-face, phone and virtual consultations.
They cite a recent survey of Scottish GPs that found 94% of the 157 respondents believe more patients with mental health concerns have been seeking help during the pandemic, with 71% reporting that such presentations have increased “a lot” during this period.
Despite the increases, 80% reported that the surgery that they work in does not have enough mental health workers to effectively treat patients with mental health and wellbeing issues.
Dr David Shackles, the joint chairman of RCGP Scotland, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly impacted on the mental health of patients for a whole host of reasons and today’s survey results are therefore unfortunately unsurprising.
“This year’s Scottish parliamentary elections are being held at a critical time for our health and social care service.
“While work is currently under way to explore improvements to primary care mental health services, we need to ensure that the next Scottish Government prioritises this work to enable patients to access the mental health support that they require, when they require it, in an environment that they know and trust.
“General practice sits at the frontline of our health service and for the overwhelming majority of patients is their first point of contact with the NHS.
“We need to ensure that more mental health clinicians can be trained and brought into GP practices to provide vital support for patients in their own communities.”
Citing the survey’s finding that 57% of GPs reporting that working during the Covid-19 crisis has negatively impacted their mental health, the RCGP’s other joint chairman, Dr Chris Williams, added: “For many years, we have been calling for the implementation of a dedicated mental health and wellbeing service for GPs.
“This is in recognition of the fact that clinicians are less likely than others to seek the mental health support that they require due to confidentiality and stigma concerns.
“We were therefore delighted to recently welcome the launch of the workforce specialist service in Scotland which will provide mental health support to those working within health and social care who would otherwise have experienced barriers in accessing this support.
“Today’s survey results highlight that such a service has never been more needed.
“As we look towards the coming years, it is vital that the lessons of the pandemic are learned and the mental health and wellbeing of our dedicated frontline staff is never again taken for granted.
“This is why we are calling on political parties to commit to safeguarding funding for the dedicated mental health service over the coming years to ensure that our health and social care workforce can access the support that they require when they need it most.
“We would also like to see this service regularly monitored and evaluated to ensure that it meets the mental health needs of our health and social care staff.”