Uncovering the needs of young people in primary care

Dr Jane Roberts

Three year project uncovers young people's health needs in primary care

For three years, the Department of Health has funded a major project looking at innovative ways for improving young people's experiences of primary care.

The GP Champions project ran over 10 pilot sites in England, each with a GP, linked with a voluntary sector partner and young people. The work was led nationally by the Association for Young People's Health, the charity Youth Access and the RCGP Adolescent Health Group.

The finding have been turned into a practical toolkit for GPs, which was endorsed by the RCGP.

We know from existing research that young people are the age group least satisfied with visits to their GP and statistically have the shortest consultation time. However, it was still startling to discover that 39% of the young people involved in the Liverpool site were not registered with a GP and that of these 203 young people surveyed, aged 11-24, 57% said that going to their GP was 'not a good experience'.

The work uncovered the difficulties young people all over England face in registering with a GP including those arguably at greatest need, such as young people leaving foster care, young offenders and the homeless. Adolescent is a critical time for health when risk-taking behaviour begins and many serious long-term conditions become apparent. Half of lifetime mental illnesses start before the age of 14. It is also the stage when health behaviours such as smokers start which in turn becomes a life-long habit.

Are we letting adolescents down just when they need our help?

The GP Champions project also revealed surprising findings, such as a significant number of young people did not think that their GP could help with mental health problems including anger, anxiety and depression. Young people who had visited their GP for help with mental health issues also reported that they had felt 'judged', 'misunderstood' and were 'not taken seriously'.

Another barrier is the rise of telephone triage systems to book appointments; young people frequently do not have credit on their mobile phones, lack the freedom to call or speak to a GP at a specific time when they need to be in school, college or at work. Many have also said that they lack the confidence to summarise their health problem(s) over the telephone.

The GP Champions project

The GP Champions project has pioneered some excellent new practice and referral pathways, increasing GP capacity and improving outcomes for young people. New GP clinics are being trialled in non-traditional settings. In Liverpool, the CCG funded a new weekly 'drop-in' GP service in a youth club, and in South London the Lesoco College of Further Education funded new GP clinics in all three of the sites.

Several of the pilot areas started direct referrals to the voluntary sector, with GP practices commissioning counselling services to be delivered from within the practice, creating a seamless care pathway.

Young people have also become involved in training GPs at CCG learning events and creating new resources on the needs of young people in primary care.

The GP Champions Toolkit for General Practice

The toolkit provides practical ideas for primary care alongside case studies illustrating the learning and ideas from all ten pilot sites. To find out more about the work and to download the toolkit, click here.

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