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Introducing Primary Care Talking Therapy and Well-being Hubs

Dr Grainne Bonnar
Dr Grainne Bonnar

Did you know that it is estimated 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some time in their lives?

Did you know last year approximately 50,000 people in Northern Ireland were referred to a mental health service?

The use of prescription drugs for anxiety and depression is significantly higher in Northern Ireland than in elsewhere in the UK, with Belfast having the highest rates here. Long-term medication is often the only option available to GPs to help patients cope with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

While medication may have an important role to play it often does not address the root cause of the problem.  The development Mental Health Hubs are now providing GPs with a new pathway for patients suffering from common mental health issues.

The Hubs aim to put prevention and early intervention at the heart of mental health and well-being as they recognise that early intervention is vital in improving people’s life chances.

You can view how the Mental Health Hub operates by clicking on the short video below.

Each of the five Local Commissioning Groups (committees of the Health and Social Care Board) have made a commitment towards establishing Mental Health Hubs within their localities, and the majority are now in the early stages of development.

The Hubs will enable emotional  well-being and mental health care to be co-ordinated  by  providing an all-inclusive approach from a variety of partners offering a wide range of services to patients such as:

Funding has been approved by the Belfast Local Commissioning Group (LCG) to rollout the Hubs across Belfast.   “We know these therapies work and improve patient’s mental health, both in the short-term and in the long-term, so they justify our investment” says Terry Maguire, Chair of Belfast LCG.

Describing the need for the Mental Health Hubs in Belfast, Iain Deboys, Belfast LCG Lead added:

“There are too many people in Belfast who are suffering stress, anxiety or mild depression and who go to their GP and are being prescribed anti-depressants because talking therapies are not readily available.  The Hub is a service that fills a gap we have identified in patient care.  It is a new way of working to transform how mental health care is delivered.”

“By creating a partnership ‘Hub’ between GPs, Belfast Trust, and local community and voluntary organisations, we were able to develop a genuine example of integrated care which can deliver better care for patients. Each partner involved in the service is able to bring added value and help provide a holistic approach to delivering care,” he said.

Dr Grainne Bonnar, GP and Chair of West Belfast Integrated Care Partnership, added: “Good mental health is as important as good physical health, and maintaining it should be a priority for everyone.    In the real world people present with a mixture of problems, often needing different levels of support at different times. The Mental Health Hub now enables GPs to access more appropriate care for patients.”

“By working in partnership we believe we are better able to offer a wider range of treatment options. This approach benefits patients who in the past have been referred around the system or who need their care stepped up or down depending on their individual needs.”

So how do patients get access to the service?

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust provide a co-ordinator who links with all the GP practices involved to take the referrals to the Hub. The Co-ordinator then contacts everyone referred and discusses their emotional health and wellbeing needs and options available. The co-ordinator then brings the case for discussion to the Hub.

The Hub meets weekly and comprises the co-ordinator, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a local GP, and therapists from the local community and voluntary organisations. They discuss the case and identify the most suitable service to meet the patient’s needs. The co-ordinator then discusses the treatment plan with the patient and makes arrangements for them to be seen. The co-ordinator keeps in touch with the patient throughout their therapy. If needed, any partner organisation involved can get expert advice from the Hub members and the patient may be redirected quickly to another service, as necessary.

Mr Deboys added: “Feedback to date indicates a high level of satisfaction with the service, with patients telling us that they received a bespoke service specific to their needs. They also appreciated the personal contact from the co-ordinator, some saying that this kept them feeling motivated and safe, knowing that someone was there if things got rough.”

To date there have been over 600 GP referrals received at the Hub, were in addition to a talking therapy, many people also got access to services offering financial and benefits advice, family support services, help with substance misuse, volunteering opportunities, befriending, social activities and physical health programmes.

The Belfast Mental Health Hub recently won a prestigious Belfast Trust Chairman’s award, which celebrated innovation and ground-breaking health and social care projects.