Skip to the content

New funding to transform community mental health care

People in South West Surrey, North East Hants and East Berkshire who have a severe mental illness are set to benefit from a ground-breaking new community mental health service designed to improve access to a wide range of specialist support.

Extended appointments with mental health experts from the NHS, social care and specialist third sector organisations, plus access to therapies, physical health checks and pharmacists, are just some of the wider expertise patients will be able to access at their local GP practice and in the community under new ways of working.

Patients will be able to explore the situation affecting their wellbeing – whether that is an ongoing mental or physical health problem, loneliness, debt, or other issues. They can then be guided to appropriate resources that may help, including talking therapies, benefits advice, or an introduction to a local community group.

Around 50% of those with severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, or major depression, currently see their GP to manage the majority of their care and treatment.

But, until now, multi-agency support has mostly only been available to those referred to a specialist community mental health team.

Frimley Health and Care has been awarded £5.20m from a total of £70m set aside by NHS England to transform community mental health care in twelve ‘early implementer’ areas.

Mental health specialists Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust will lead the local implementation over the next two years.

The new funding will enable the Trusts to expand upon field trials which Surrey and Borders Partnership has been leading in three primary care networks (groups of GP practices working together) in West Surrey over the past six months.

This service, known locally as GPimhs (General Practice Integrated Mental Health Service), is to be scaled up and extended across eight further areas within the Frimley Health and Care area of North East Hampshire, Farnham, Surrey Heath and East Berkshire.

Fiona Edwards, Lead for the Frimley Health and Care Integrated Care System and Chief Executive of Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’re really excited to have been chosen to pilot this new way of working, as it responds directly to what local GPs have been telling us would most help their patients.

“We heard from more than 80 GPs that some patients need a greater level of support than can be offered in a normal appointment but don’t meet the criteria for the local mental health services. This means that GPs and patients feel like they are struggling on their own and people have difficulty accessing the help they need.”

Health leaders estimate the changes will prevent up to 10,000 adults each year from needing frequent appointments. This will free-up around 5 to 7.5 hours, equating to 30-45 appointments of GP clinical time every week.

Katie*, from Guildford, who has accessed the GPimhs service, said: “Ten minutes with my GP isn’t enough, but the time spent with the GPimhs worker helped me to open up. There are so many things that I don’t tell the doctor because there’s not enough time. I now feel supported and feel that I can open up and explore issues.”

“This service will help to address the long standing health inequalities faced by people with severe mental illness”, says Professor Helen Rostill, Chief Innovation Officer and Director of Therapies, from Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust: “It is unacceptable that people with severe mental illness die around 20 years younger than average. This is often because of poor physical health and social factors, whilst smoking, drug or alcohol use, are also big influences.”

Professor Rostill added: “By providing expert advice and support to local GP practices, we hope to reach more people, free up clinical time and help reduce the risk of people relapsing when their care is transferred back to their GP. Ultimately, it is about intervening early to save lives and improve quality of life.”

Susanna Yeoman, Divisional Director for Mental Health Services at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, concludes: “This focus on high quality and accessible mental health services in local communities is a significant step towards improving care for people with mental health issues. The shift towards this integrated, preventative approach will begin to address health inequalities and ensure people can access timely support.”

Under the plans, the new service will also help connect people with a wide range of local authority health and wellbeing support services from leisure facilities, clubs, groups, stop smoking advice to community transport.

The plans also include expanding the specific support available for people with a personality disorder and developing more targeted approaches for young people aged 18–25 years old.

Services are expected to be up and running by the end of the financial year as part of a gradual roll-out and will include an extensive recruitment campaign.

These developments reflect ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January this year, to transform community mental health services for adults of all ages with moderate to severe mental illnesses.

Frimley Health and Care