Mental health campaigners have received strong support from the Royal College of GPs NI for their #123GP campaign for better mental health care from GPs.
The Mental Health Rights Campaign Group, comprised of mental health service users, carers and families who have been bereaved by suicide, held a very constructive meeting with Dr. Grainne Doran, Chair Royal College GPs NI, on Thursday 1 February 2018. 

Campaign member Shane Bradley said: “We very much welcome this meeting with Dr. Doran and her colleagues. GPs play a pivotal role in the provision of mental health care, with over 90% of people with a mental health problem being treated within the primary care system. However, we also recognise the current crisis within GP services, with the resultant pressures on individual GPs.  Improving resources and expertise available to GPs to deal with mental health problems will be a ‘win-win’ for both patients and GPs”.

The meeting took place against the backdrop of the publication of a major study by University of Ulster, which found that half of all students experience mental health problems, underscoring the absolute urgency of addressing this issue.The #123GP campaign, launched in June 2017, emerged from people’s direct experiences of accessing mental health care from GPs, and is focused on securing concrete, measurable changes that will benefit patients and their families and carers.  Campaigners outlined their key campaign asks as follows:

  1. the provision of practice based counselling through every GP practice
  2. mandatory training on mental health for all trainee and qualified GPs
  3. dedicated mental health workers to be included within GP practice teams

They raised a number of issues with the RCGP NI, including that currently only 50% of trainee GPs have to undertake a placement in a mental health facility, which is usually hospital rather than community based. There is a need to provide for practising GPs in NI with the opportunity to obtain accreditation as a Practitioner with a Special Interest in Mental Health.  In addition campaigners highlighted the fact that currently accessing counselling through a GP practice is somewhat of a post code lottery, with only two thirds of GP practices drawing down available Health and Social Care Board funding for such provision.

In turn, Dr. Doran shared information about a number of developments which the RCGPNI believe have the potential to improve mental health care provided by GPs. These included what Dr. Doran described as significant work in developing the role of mental health within multi-disciplinary teams through the Department of Health led Transformation programme.
Speaking about the campaign, Dr Grainne Doran, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland (RCGPNI), said: “RCGPNI is hugely supportive of the need to improve mental health services for the population of Northern Ireland. The importance of community based practice aligned services cannot be overestimated for continuity of care. The patient voice is essential in raising the profile of mental health issues. We hope that this campaign will feed into the significant work already in progress at the Department of Health to expand the multidisciplinary care team in primary care.”

To date the campaign has received significant support, including over 1000 signatures for an online petition, as well as formal endorsements by the GPs at the Deep End Scotland, and by Professor Graham Watt, University of Glasgow. Campaigners are due to meet in Belfast on Saturday 24 February to plan the next stages of this important campaign, with both the Department for Health and the Health and Social Care Board in their sights. You can support this important campaign by signing and sharing the online petition, which can be accessed via the following link