“The price of an ice-cream!  #123GP campaign calls for GPs to be properly funded to provide access to counselling for all patients who need it”

The #123GP campaign hand over a petition later today, Thursday 14 June 2018, to the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), calling on them to immediately address the woefully inadequate funding for in-house provision of counselling in GP practices.  

Mental health service users and carers will be joined by others including counsellors, mental health charities when they present the Board Chairperson Dr. Ian Clements with the list of over 1800 signatures.  

As the first port of call for anybody concerned about their health, GPs have a vital role to play in the prevention, detection and treatment of mental ill health.  Approximately 40% of people who attend their GP do so for mental health problems ranging from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and PTSD.  For many of these people, counselling offers an effective, low cost form of treatment.

However, the #123GP campaign has uncovered shocking information via the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act that shows that the average amount of money for counselling provision allocated by the HSCB to GPs per patient averages out at £2.29. The counselling budget also saw a decrease from  £1,487,787.83 in 2016/17 to £1, 448,000.00 in 2017/18; this at a time when rates of mental ill health and suicide in Northern Ireland are rising.

Additional information obtained through FOI indicates that only 67% of all GPs currently apply for HSCB funding, which would appear to be at least in part related to the funding model. This means that in practice patients face a post code lottery in accessing counselling through their GP, with many practices not offering access to counselling.

Both patients and doctors alike have criticised the lack of availability of counselling as a treatment option.  Karen McGuigan, a member of the #123GP campaign stated:

“We were totally shocked to discover that the amount of money HSCB puts into the counselling pot for GPs to draw down from is the equivalent of the price of an ice-cream - £2.29. The majority of people who attend their GP for mental health problems  tell us that they would like to be offered the chance to talk to somebody, but for many people this isn’t happening. We hope that the Board will meet with our campaign and listen to what we have to say – we are speaking from experience”.  

In a survey of 200 GPs carried out in England in 2013, two thirds of GPs said they were forced to prescribe medication to patients with depression when they felt that talking therapies would be more effective, due to the long waiting lists for therapy. Northern Ireland clearly trails even further behind, with some patients not even having the option of being placed on a waiting list. Alongside this lack of provision, Northern Ireland topped a survey of 23 countries for its prescribing rates for anti-depressants, with rates being double those in similar regions of England, underscoring the urgency of addressing the current lack of counselling provision.

As a first step in addressing this issue, the #123GP campaigners had offered to meet with the HSCB, an offer rejected by the Board. Campaigners today called again on the HSCB to convene an urgent meeting with them to explore the issues and proposed solutions.  




1.       The #123GP campaign is calling for three specific improvements in the provision of mental health care by GPs, namely 1) provision of counselling 2) mental health training for GPs and 3) the employment of a mental health worker as part of the primary care team. Responsibility for implementing changes to the first of these, the provision of counselling, rests with the HSCB. Further information on the #123GP campaign can be accessed via the following links




2.       The text of the online petition can be accessed here http://bit.ly/onetwothreeGP


3.       The average allocation of £2.29 per patient was worked out as foll

  i.      Health and Social Care Board funding allocation 2018/19 for GP for provision of in-house counselling for over 18s = £1,448,000.0

  ii.      Total number of registered patients with GPs across NI (2017) = 1,970,240    

iii.      Minus under 16s population (which represent approx 1/5 of the NI population) = 1,576,192. (using population number for under 16s as figure for under 18s not readily available

  iv.      40% of people who attend their GP do so for mental health problems = 630, 476.80

    v.      The budget of £1,448.000 divided by 630,476.80 works out at an average of £2.29 per person