Sheffield GP says that city's spike in mental health referrals is just the "tip of the iceberg"

A Sheffield GP said that a spike in mental health referrals is merely the “tip of the iceberg” as most patients he sees are not offered one.

By Steven Ross
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 7:00 am
Dr Ben Allen, Birley Health Centre. Picture: Chris Etchells
Dr Ben Allen, Birley Health Centre. Picture: Chris Etchells

New data reveals that referrals for mental health support made through NHS Sheffield’s Clinical Commissioning Group grew by 41 per cent between February 2020 and March 2021.

This rise was more than double the national average increase of 19 per cent, and was the 17th highest percentage increase out of 118 CCGs studied.

Sheffield GP Dr Ben Allen is concerned that his patients are not getting the support they need because of a growth in demand and lack of funding.

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A bottle of anti-depressant pills. (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

He said: “I probably refer about one in 100 patients to secondary mental health care, and one in three to the Adult Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme for lower level mental health difficulties.

"We are managing the other 99 per cent - we speak to them, try to understand what’s going on in their life and we might proscribe antidepressants. We speak to them about financial problems, relationship difficulties. We see them, listen to them and we review them again a month later - a referral is pretty rare.

“I probably would say that we are prescribing anti-depressants more than we would like - when faced with barriers to specialist mental health care we have to rely more on tools we use in general practice.”

The same data also shows that the number of contacts adults actually went on to have with mental health services actually decreased by 8 per cent in Sheffield.

Most patients Ben sees will not be given a referral because the waiting lists for secondary mental health support are already so long.

Dr Allen added: "General practice was in crisis before. The pandemic has increased the crisis - mental health is disproportionately affected but physical health has been as well.

"The vast majority of GPs are struggling to cope with day to day work - without a doubt. We know our patients are struggling and we don’t have the number of staff that we need to deal.

"In the short term we need funding for additional roles to support GPs. “Funding could pay for psychologists, therapists and pharmacists. This scheme is already in place, but with a fraction of what is needed for the crisis. Doubling the funding would be a simple way of helping.”