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Funds demand for GPs to send patients for counselling

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'Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer should start their treatment within 62 days' (stock photo)

'Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer should start their treatment within 62 days' (stock photo)

'Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer should start their treatment within 62 days' (stock photo)

Health campaigners will meet officials today to call for an increase in funding for GP counselling referrals.

Figures obtained by the Participation & Practice of Rights (PPR) and the #123GP campaign reveal fewer GP practices drew down funding in 2017/18 compared to the previous year.

In 2016/17, 69% of GP practices across the province accessed funding for the in-house provision of counselling, and in the past year that dropped again, to 67%.

There are also significant differences across trusts, with a postcode lottery in operation - 48% of GP practices in the Southern Trust accessing this fund, compared to 89% in the Northern Trust.

Waiting times also vary - six months in the the Western Trust for assessment, followed by another four weeks to be seen.

In the Belfast Trust area patients are waiting for more than 40 days to see a counsellor.

Neither the South Eastern nor Northern Trusts were able to provide any data on waiting times.

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The #123GP campaign is calling for an immediate doubling of current funding for in-house counselling, supported by a coalition of almost 50 GPs, counselling organisations and mental health charities.

Kirsty Scott, a Newtownabbey-based #123GP campaigner, says GPs have a vital role to play in the prevention, detection and treatment of mental ill-health, as well as in the prevention of deaths by suicide.

She added: "We know that counselling offers an effective, low-cost form of treatment and should be considered in advance of, or if necessary, alongside medication. We have met with GPs who have told us how valuable a practice-based counselling service is in treating patients with mental health problems.

"This is particularly the case for population groups who would never otherwise think of accessing counselling, such as middle-aged men living rurally.

"It is crucial that all GP practices provide timely and equal access to quality counselling."

She added: "The board needs to urgently increase funding for and provision of access to counselling."

The Health and Social Care Board has said that those GP practices which do not offer in-house counselling provide patients with access to counselling through the primary care talking therapy and wellbeing hubs.

It also claimed that "a concerted effort" has been made to develop alternative talking therapies.


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