May 22, 2012

New service will allow GPs to directly refer GMS patients for counselling

JUNE SHANNON

A new service which, for  the first time, will al- XjLlow GPs to refer GMS patients with mental health difficulties directly to coun- selling services, was launched at the ICGP AGM in Galway last weekend.

Addressing the main col- lege forum of the AGM, which this year focused on mental health in general practice, Dr Brid Hollywood, GP Co-Lead of the Mental Health Clini- cal Care Programme said €5 million has already been allo- cated by the HSE for the new counselling/psychological service for general practice.

Due to be rolled-out on a phased basis, the service will initially be provided to GMS patients aged between 18 and 65 years who are suffering from mild depression, anxie- ty and stress disorders.

Dr Hollywood explained that 10 coordinators are cur- rently being appointed to es- tablish, roll-out and manage the service and the coordina- tors will be responsible for li- aising with GPs.

GPs can agree to opt in to the service. In order to do so they must agree certain refer- ral criteria. The national coor- dinators will then match GP referrals to the most appro- priate counsellor in order to meet the specific needs of the individual patient.

According to Dr Hollywood, there is a degree of resist- ance to the roll-out of the pro- gramme. She said that the Col- lege of Psychiatry of Ireland has expressed concerns thatthe counsellors employed todeliver the service will not bequalified.

"I can assure everybody thatcounsellors will be qualifiedand there will be a standardthat they will have to meet inorder to be taken on," she said.

There are also plans to cre-ate a new education and train-ing programme specifical-ly designed to qualify peoplefor the new service. However,it is likely to be a year or twobefore this training compo-nent of the programme is es-tablished, she said.

Counsellors will be recruit-ed by the HSE and accommo-dated either in GP surgeries,if space permits, or alterna-tively in HSE-owned or otherpublic buildings.

The service will be fullyevaluated and there are plansto include a before and afterstudy which, Dr Hollywoodsaid, would look at the impactof the service on a numberof issues including GP con-sultation rates, referral ratesand GP prescribing rates. Thestudy will also look at short-term and longer-term patientimpact.

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