Additional reporting by Katie Williams, RADAR AI
One in six patients in Kent feel their mental health problems are going unrecognised by their GP, new figures have shown.
The Royal College of GPs is calling for longer appointment slots, warning the standard 10-minute window is "not fit for purpose" and leaves doctors unable to delve into more complex health issues.
A survey of 23,287 patients in the NHS Kent and Medway CCG area revealed 8,912 had mental health needs of some kind at their last GP appointment. Of those, 16% felt their needs had not been recognised or understood after speaking to their doctor.
The figures come from the 2020 GP Patient Survey, conducted between January and April this year, which provides an overview of patients' experiences with primary care services.
Across England, 15% of patients surveyed said their healthcare professional didn't recognise or understand any mental health needs they might have had during their most recent appointment – up slightly from 14% in 2019 and 13% in 2018.
Royal College of GPs chairman Professor Martin Marshall said mental health is a priority in general practice, but some conditions are "complex and difficult to diagnose".
"It’s not uncommon for some patients to present with physical issues, such as chest pains, and only after careful assessment would a GP be able to determine if a symptom is due to an underlying physical condition or stress and anxiety," he said.
He added that this was why the college had spent several years calling for longer appointments.
"The standard 10-minute appointment is not fit for purpose, particularly for complex conditions. If we are to give mental health problems parity of esteem with physical health problems, the reality is GPs will need more time with patients," he said.
Lucy Schonegevel, head of health influencing at charity Rethink Mental Illness, said it is worrying some patients feel their needs aren't being met.
She said: “GPs are the first port of call for many people experiencing mental health problems, so it’s crucial that people can trust that they will receive a high standard of care from their doctor.
"We’re anticipating an increase in demand for mental health services due to the pandemic, so to reduce pressure on GPs it’s crucial to open up other routes to help people access mental health care when they need it."
She added that although more training would help GPs to provide more effective support, other solutions such as link workers within general practice should be considered.
The NHS has committed to introducing 1,000 link workers – non-clinical staff focused on supporting wellbeing who can signpost to support or activity groups – by April 2021 as part of its Long Term Plan.
Of the Kent and Medway patients surveyed, 78% said their overall experience of their GP practice was good – slightly below the national average of 82%.