Mental health in primary care

90% of people with mental health problems are cared for entirely within primary care, which includes people with serious and enduring mental illness (SMI) but primary care uses less than 10% of the total expenditure spent on mental health. Around 30% of people who see their GP have a mental health component to their illness.

Providing care for people with mental health problems and promoting mental health is a priority for the NHS in each of the four countries of the UK.

General practice, which is part of wider primary care, is charged with providing care for ‘common mental health problems’ and contributing to health promotion, through the GP Contract, commissioned by NHS England but there is a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities for the care of patients with chronic, complex and disabling non-psychotic mental health problems. Primary care also has a duty to provide physical health care including offering screening, to those people with SMI such as schizophrenia. However, there is no clear direction as to who should manage people with stable SMI who no longer require the expertise of specialist secondary care services. Many of these people are being discharged into primary care with no planning or support.

Primary care is in a unique position to deliver mental health care being most people’s first port of call in times of health care need or the development of symptoms. It is the only part of our health service that offers ‘cradle to grave’ family orientated, person-centered care, often seeing and supporting patients through significant life events such as pregnancy and bereavement.

Clinical Policy 

Download and read the statement. RCGP position statement on mental health in primary care (281 KB PDF) September 2017.

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