GPs, counsellors and patients unite in call for increased funding for counselling

In an open letter to the Health and Social Care Board ( HSCB) published today by the #123GP campaign, as it prepares to meet with the Board on 21 Aug 2018,  over 40 organisations and individuals have issued a joint call to the Board  to ensure that funding for counselling is significantly increased in line with need and that access to counselling provision in all GP practices is made available.

Among the organisations and individuals to add their names to the open letter are Aware NI, Victim Support NI, Women’s Aid NI, Nexus NI, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy ( the main accreditation body for counsellors), the NI Counselling Forum, PIPS charity, Lighthouse, East Belfast Community Counselling Centre,  Mr. Bobby Carlin, Counselling Services Manager Ballymena,  Dr. John Kyle GP, Dr. David Johnston GP, Dr. Brendan Gillan , Dr. Nuala Quiery Counsellor and Ms. Eílís McIntyre Counsellor.The letter notes that GPs act as the first port of call for over 90% of people worried about their mental health, with one in three GP appointments being for mental health. For many of these people, counselling offers an effective, low cost

The letter highlights the fact that patients, GPs and counsellors alike recognise the seriousness of this situation. In a survey of 200 GPs carried out in England in 2013, two thirds said they were forced, due to long waiting lists, to prescribe medication to patients with depression when they felt that counselling would be more effective.

Christine Rocks, who lost her daughter Samantha to suicide 12 years ago, highlights the urgency of getting this issue addressed “access to counselling through your GP practice is a vital treatment option for people with mental health problems or for those battling suicidal thoughts. But getting to see a counsellor is a post code lottery, it totally depends on where you live. Even when your practice has a counsellor we know that people wait for up to 6 months to be seen. The awful reality is that some people will be dead before they get the help they need. The HSCB needs to at least double the amount of money it is putting into GP practice based counselling, and do it now”.

GPs also highlight the critical role that the provision of practice based counselling can play in effectively treating mental health problems at primary care level, thus reducing the need for referrals into secondary mental health care services. Dr. David Johnston OBE FRCGP points out “this is a very valuable service that helps GPs to provide better services locally. It not only reduces referrals to secondary care but also improves patient outcomes”.

 

Dr. John Kyle an East Belfast based GP says ‘there has never been a greater need for counselling. GPs are at the front line and adequate counselling resources embedded in General Practice is not just sensible, it’s becoming essential”.

Mr. Bobby Carlin, a Counsellor and Counselling Services Manager in the Ballymena area explains how having a counselling service based in the GP practice makes it accessible to people ‘Lots of clients would never had thought about counselling as an option if it wasn’t offered by their GP but also based within the GP practice. This is a vital service which should be expanded as a model of best practice.’

Signatories note that the HSCB, as the agency responsible for commissioning and managing General Medical Services ( GMS), has a duty to ensure that the range and effectiveness of that service meet the needs of the population.

The letter concludes by calling on the HSCB to take the necessary steps to ensure that all GMS patients can access counselling through their GP practice.

In June 2018 campaigners presented Dr. Ian Clements, Chairperson HSCB with a petition of over 2000 signatures calling for action by the HSCB ; Dr. Clements indicated that he looked forward to further engagement on what he described as ‘this important issue’. #123GP campaigners are due to meet with senior officials and HSCB Board members today and look forward to a positive response from the Board. A further statement will be issued by #123GP on the outcome of this meeting.

 

 Text of open letter to Health and Social Care Board

To the members of the Health and Social Care Board

 

There is a mental health crisis in Northern Ireland.

 

As the agency responsible for commissioning and managing General Medical Services (GMS) we are asking the Health and Social Care Board to take the necessary steps to ensure that all GMS patients can access counselling through their GP practice.

 

The numbers of people in our society who are struggling with poor mental health is 25-44% higher than in England. The rate of deaths by suicide is also the highest across these islands.  Getting the right help at the right time is vitally important, both in improving a person’s recovery and in preventing someone’s mental health from worsening, with all the ensuing costs to the individual, their family and to wider society.

 

Over 90% of people with mental health problems will be treated by their GP, with approximately one in three GP appointments being for mental health.  As the first port of call therefore, GPs have a vital role to play in the prevention, detection and treatment of mental ill health, as well as in the prevention of deaths by suicide.   For many people who attend their GP with mental health problems, counselling offers an effective, low cost form of treatment.

 

While recognising that people will access counselling via a number of different routes, including through community and voluntary organisations and the mental health hubs, it is crucial that GP practices provide timely and equal access to counselling. The funding of practice based counselling by the Health and Social Care Board demonstrates a recognition by the Board of the need for this service.   However, it is deeply concerning that the Board’s figures indicate that only two thirds of GPs currently offer access to practice based counselling and that the budget allocated by the Board for the provision of counselling is nowhere near sufficient to meet the real level of need.

 

GPs and patients alike recognise the seriousness of this situation. In a survey of 200 GPs carried out in England in 2013, two thirds said they were forced, due to long waiting lists, to prescribe medication to patients with depression when they felt that counselling would be more effective.

The Health and Social Care Board has a duty to ensure that the range and effectiveness of services meets the needs of the population it serves.  Ensuring that all GP practices provide equal access to talking therapies is a crucial aspect of the overall provision of services for patients presenting with mental health problems. The HSCB not only has the power to implement these measures, it has a statutory duty to do so, as per Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

We are asking the Health and Social Care Board to take the necessary steps to ensure that all GMS patients can access counselling through their GP practice.

 

  List of signatories

 

#123GP campaign

Dr. Brendan Gillan, Psychotherapist

Dr. David J Johnston OBE FRCGP

Dr. John Kyle GP

Dr. Nuala Quiery Counsellor

Mr. Bobby Carlin, Counselling and Counselling Services Manager, Ballymena 

Mr. Desy Jones Training Co-ordinator PIPS Charity

Mr. Gerard McCartan, Chairperson PPR

Mr. Hugh Scullion, mental health professional ( retired),  mental health rights activist

Mr. Lekan Ojo-Okiji Abasi

Mr. Patrick Doherty

Mr. Philip McTaggart, Mindskills Training and PIPS founder

Ms. Brenda Skillen Counsellor

Ms. Brid Keenan, Gestalt Psychotherapist ( BACP accred)  and NARM therapist

Ms. Claire Thompson Fundraiser and Events Co-ordinator PIPS Charity

Ms. Éilís McIntyre, Counsellor, Registered BACP ( Accred)

Ms. Elizabeth Stott

Ms. Joan Corrigan

Ms. Karen Bester, mental health service user, trainer and writer

Ms. Karen Copeland, Copeland Counselling Services

Ms. Karen McGuigan

Ms. Kathy Gilliland Belfast Mental Health Rights Group

Ms. Kirston Scott Belfast Mental Health Rights Group

Ms. Lynda McEldowney

Ms. Marie Quiery, MBACP ( Senior)

Aware NI

Ballinascreen Men’s Shed

Belfast Cognitive Centre 

British Association Counselling and Psychotherapy

East Belfast Community Counselling Centre

Embolden

Focus the Identity Trust

Jigsaw

Lighthouse

Men’s Health Forum in Ireland

National Counselling Society 

Nexus NI

NI Counselling Forum

PIPS Charity

Psychologists for Social Change NI 

SAM88

Square Cut Punt Crew

STEPS

Suicide Down to Zero

Turas na nDaoine

Victim Support NI

Women’s Aid Federation NI