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NHS England launches £20m GP Health Service

GPs in England will now be able to refer themselves for specialist help to cope with mental health and addiction issues as NHS England launches its NHS GP Health Service today (30 January 2017).

The body previously announced the £20m scheme last October, which will be available to all 55,000 GPs within each of NHS England’s 13 local service teams for the next five years.

The service, which is the first of its kind in the world, has been launched alongside the GP Career Plus scheme, a 12-month pilot which will recruit around 80 GPs at risk of leaving the profession into a ‘general practice pool’ enabling them to provide clinical cover in a more relaxed manner.

The two schemes have been launched in a bid to stop GPs needing to take sick leave or quitting the profession due to personal or professional problems.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, said: “Being a GP is tough. It requires a deep knowledge of medicine, an ability to separate the serious from the trivial, coupled with compassion.

“As the number and complexity of consultations grows, so does the stress of the job. This takes its toll. Both sickness and early retirement rates are rising. These pilot schemes aim to offer help on both fronts to key members of the profession who contribute so much to the lives of so many.”

The NHS Health Service, developed by NHS England with the BMA’s GP committee, Health Education England, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the General Medical Council (GMC), can be accessed by phone, email or app with service users receiving an assessment within 48 hours before they are offered a more detailed face-to-face assessment by experienced clinicians.

The new service is run by the London-based Hurley Clinic Partnership, which has run the similar NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) for the past nine years with strong results in enabling doctors to return to work.

“Being a GP can be an incredibly stressful job, so it’s no wonder that the intense resource and workforce pressures currently facing our profession are increasingly taking their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of family doctors,” said Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair.

“GPs and GP trainees have been crying out for a service like this new GP NHS Health Service for some time, so this is an incredibly welcome development – and it was a key pledge in NHS England’s GP Forward View – as we strive to ensure we have a healthy workforce who can deliver the best possible, safe patient care to over 1.3 million patients every day.”

The news comes as NHS Digital figures revealed last week that the number of full-time equivalent GPs working in England had fallen slightly in 2016 with 34,495 FTE GPs in post in September 2016, 97 fewer than the year before.

The BMA also warned that seven practices, covering 30,000 patients, have closed in less than two years, saying that GPs are being swamped by a combination of rising demand, smaller budgets and staff shortages, putting patient safety at risk.

“We cannot allow this situation to go on,” said the BMA GPs committee deputy chair Richard Vautrey. “The government must begin a programme of long-term investment in GP services that ensures all patients have access to the services they need.”

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