AQW 24368/17-22 – GP Local Enhanced Service

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Health (i) how many GP practices in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust have signed up to a Local Enhanced Service in order to provide a mild to moderate counselling service within their practice; (ii) how many GP practices are yet to consider an in-house counselling service provided though LES; and (iii) what services are available to provide mild to moderate counselling services for patients who have no access to counselling services within their GP practice.

Minister of Health: Adult mental health services in Northern Ireland are delivered in line with the mental health care pathway and the stepped care model. In general steps one and two are provided through primary care. This includes counselling, involvement of the community and voluntary sectors and, where available, referral to talking therapies/ wellbeing/ psychological therapies hubs. I recently published a new Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 which proposes changing how mental health services are structured, with a greater focus on the community. This means reorganising mental health services around the community, with an increased focus on local needs.

In terms of the specific queries raised at (i) and (ii) above, I can confirm that sixty one practices out of seventy three have contracted to provide the Northern Ireland Local Enhanced Service for Mild to Moderate Depression. This service enables Practices to provide a regular counselling service and to provide administrative support for the counselling service for patients with mild to moderate depression. One northern area practice is not included in these figures as they fall into the South Eastern Trust (they have signed up to provide the service). All practices have responded to indicate if they would like to provide this service or not.

In relation to point (iii) of the question raised, there are a range of other options available to those wishing to access support. For example, we have been working to make additional mental health support available in primary care through the multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) Programme which has introduced new social work, physiotherapy and mental health roles into general practice. Through a holistic approach, it provides local populations with timely and accessible health and wellbeing support at the earliest stages, and is a cornerstone of transformation across the HSC.

As of August 2021 there are 313.45 WTE front line staff working in the Primary Care MDT programme of which there are currently 56.9 WTE mental health practitioners (MHPs), supported by 5 mental health managers,. These MHPs work with patients of all ages to ensure they have access to timely assessment and appropriate support to address their individual mental health needs. Throughout the pandemic the existing MDTs have played a key role in the HSC response. MHPs and SWs worked very closely in proactively identifying and supporting those who are most vulnerable and providing support at an early stage.

The MDT model is currently in place or in development in 5 of the 17 GP Federation areas – Down, Derry, West Belfast, Causeway and Newry & District with a small footprint introduced in North Down and Ards late in 2020/21. Over 600,000 people are able to benefit from an aspect of the model with the large majority of those able to access a mental health practitioner in their local GP practice.

In terms of other options available to those wishing to access support, the Public Health Agency fund a wide range of organisations to deliver counselling, crisis intervention, family support services, bereavement supports, suicide prevention, self-harm and early intervention programmes and supports.

Anyone of any age living in Northern Ireland can call Lifeline free of charge on 0808 808 8000 if they are experiencing distress or despair. The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Those who call Lifeline can speak to a professionally trained counsellor who will listen and provide help and support needed in confidence. Lifeline counsellors are experienced in dealing with many issues including trauma, suicide, self-harm, abuse, depression and anxiety.

The Minding Your Head website has a wide variety of programmes and information around mental and emotional wellbeing. A directory of services available at both a regional and local level is available at: Services | Minding Your Head.