Family doctors struggling to get help for people dealing with mental health issues, poll finds

Family doctors are struggling to get help for children and adults dealing with mental health issues, polling suggests, with seven in 10 saying they are working beyond their competence.

A rising number of GP appointments have a mental health element in the wake of the pandemic, from one in four to well over one in three, the survey from primary care reporting specialist Pulse has found.

Now many GPs have said they are battling to get children seen by specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with one adding: “I have not had a CAMHS referral accepted for at least the past two years - all rejected as ‘not actively suicidal, discharged to GP’.”

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Another family doctor told Pulse: “CAMHS reject every single referral, even in children presenting to hospital with overdose.”

Most GPs are working beyond their competence in dealing with mental health issues and are struggling to secure help, including for suicidal children, a new poll suggests. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

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Rising referrals

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has responded to the poll, saying it was seeing record referrals, with 4.3m people referred for treatment in 2021, and there were not enough psychiatrists for the workload.

GPs, as a “valuable” first point of contact for mental health needs, should not be expected to “plug the gaps”, it warned.

College president Dr Adrian James said: “The pandemic has had an enormous impact on people’s mental health, with children and young people particularly affected.

“Workforce shortages have an enormous impact on waiting times and undermine the quality of care that patients deserve.

“The Government must urgently increase investment in mental health services and take seriously future workforce planning, to alleviate the current pressures impacting both patients and practitioners.”

Snapshot survey

The Pulse snapshot poll of 569 family doctors found they many GPs were having to provide a range of support during their consultations with patients.

Four in five said they were managing suicidal thoughts in adults as well as mental health crises. More than two thirds were dealing with suicidal thoughts in children.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of doctors said their local NHS trust had raised the thresholds for adult mental health referrals during the pandemic - meaning it was harder for people to access the treatment they desperately needed.

The survey also revealed that the waiting times for some specialist services - such as ADHD and autism assessments for adults and children - are exceeding 18 months.

Dr Dave Triska, a GP in Surrey, told Pulse he is managing crisis situations in primary care “all the time” and is struggling to get patients seen by secondary care services.

Earlier this year, he said, he was unable to get a patient with psychosis seen by the emergency team.

“The end of the journey for them was being sectioned for something that was preventable, but the service wasn’t there,” he told the survey.

'Top priority'

A spokesperson for the Government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “Improving access to mental health care is a top priority and we are investing an additional £2.3bn a year into services by 2023/24.

“This will help 370,000 adults and older adults with severe mental illnesses have greater choice and control over their care, and 345,000 more children and young people access specialist NHS-funded mental health care if they need it.

“We are asking members of the public - including those with experience of mental ill health - for their views to inform a new 10-year mental health plan.”

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