All primary care staff, including GP and community pharmacists, can now self-refer to NHS Practitioner Health, NHS England has confirmed.
Launched in 2008, NHS Practitioner Health is a free, confidential service aimed at supporting healthcare professionals with mental illness and addiction problems who are working or looking to return to clinical practice.
Up until now, access to the service via self-referral was only available to doctors, dentists and individuals in senior roles. Pharmacy staff had to access mental health services and support via one of 40 mental health and wellbeing hubs across England, which can refer primary care health team members with more complex needs.
However, according to an announcement made by NHS England on 18 November 2022, all primary care staff in England will now be able to self-refer to NHS Practitioner Health if they feel they need confidential help and support with issues around mental health, including stress, depression and addiction.
NHS England confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that this includes all pharmacists working in GP practices and community pharmacy.
“We’re very pleased to announce that [NHS Practitioner Health] is now open to everyone in any role working in primary care who is struggling to access confidential care and support,” NHS England said in its bulletin.
“Previously, the free NHS primary care mental health and addiction service was only available to doctors, dentists and staff grade 8D or above in England, for self-referral.”
In August 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told The Pharmaceutical Journal that there were no plans to change NHS Practitioner Health to include pharmacists.
Instead, they pointed out that a separate, seven-day support line was “available for all NHS staff, including pharmacists”.
This was despite calls from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in 2019 to include the profession, and recognition from prior pharmacy minister, Jo Churchill, in 2020, that the need for a permanent wellbeing service for pharmacists was “quite glaring” and “part of the conversation as to how we look after people and maintain people’s physical and mental health”.
However, In June 2020, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that an internal NHS England scoping document produced in January 2019 found “limited evidence” that pharmacists need specialist mental health support through the NHS Practitioner Health service.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS’s English Pharmacy Board said: “The RPS welcomes the announcement that all primary care staff in England will now be able to self-refer to NHS Practitioner Health programme rather than having to be referred via the national health and wellbeing hubs.
“This makes it easier for all primary care staff, including pharmacists and their teams, to be able to access mental health support in a timely manner.”