Rishi Sunak backs campaign to put mental health staff in GP surgeries

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Rishi Sunak - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street
Rishi Sunak - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street

A campaign for quicker access to mental healthcare has been backed by the Chancellor, as pilot schemes found it dramatically cut hospital pressures.

Tory and Labour MPs have urged ministers to boost provision of help in GP surgeries as demand for talking therapies surged in the wake of the pandemic.

Despite a near doubling in levels of depression since the first lockdown, NHS figures show a fall in referrals to talking therapies by GPs.

No Time to Wait

In February, James Starkie, a former adviser to cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab, launched the No Time to Wait Campaign in The Telegraph.

Mr Starkie told of his battle to get help from the NHS when he was at his lowest ebb and his determination to improve access for others.

The campaign - which is calling for the rollout of mental health nurses in GP practices - was quickly backed by MPs from across the political spectrum.

They include Tory Jonathan Gullis, who wrote about his history of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, as he called on ministers to improve access to help.

Mental health charity Mind and the Royal College of Nursing have also thrown their weight behind the campaign.

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak hosted a reception at 11 Downing Street, thanking campaigners for raising awareness of the issue and for their personal bravery in speaking out about their own experiences of poor mental health.

Acclaiming Mr Starkie as “a hero”, Mr Sunak pledged: “We will back you every step of the way.”

Those at the event told how pilot schemes in Norfolk which placed senior mental health nurses in GP surgeries mean the vast majority of patients could receive help far more quickly without having to wait for a referral elsewhere.

Deployed senior nurses

Vicky Russ, of Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said areas which deployed senior nurses had been able to help 97 per cent of cases without involving secondary care, speeding up access for patients.

Previously patients visiting their GP because of mental health concerns generally had to wait for a referral for hospital care or talking therapy services, she said.

The specialist nurses are able to assess patients, offer counselling and explore triggers for mental health problems. They can also offer practical steps patients can take to stabilise their emotions and anxieties.

Ms Russ urged health officials to roll out such schemes far more widely, pointing out estimates which suggest that four in 10 patients visiting GPs are doing so because of a mental health problem.

Mr Sunak paid tribute to campaigners highlighting the role of The Telegraph for shining a spotlight on the topic.

“You have all played an integral role in raising awareness for this issue which still too often remains in the shadow of other more visible illnesses that can be equally as dangerous and as damaging,” the Chancellor said.

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