Are specialist mental health services being targeted on the most needy patients? The effects of setting up special services in general practice.
Kendrick T., Burns T., Garland C., Greenwood N., Smith P.
BACKGROUND: Around 25% of patients with psychoses lose contact with specialist psychiatric services, despite the government's policy to focus the efforts of community teams on this group. AIM: To identify patient and practice factors associated with continuing contact and loss of contact with specialist services. METHOD: Cross-sectional comparison was made of patients in and out of specialist contact, through detailed interviews with 102 patients among 26 south west London practices. Associations were sought between contact with specialist services and patient factors (illness severity, social functioning, quality of life, needs for care, and satisfaction with general practitioner [GP] services) and practice factors (size, location, fundholding status, training status, and the presence of mental health professionals on site). RESULTS: Thirty-one (30%) patients were currently out of specialist contact. No significant differences were found between those in and out of contact on any measures of diagnosis or psychiatric history. Those in contact had significantly more symptoms, poorer social functioning, poorer quality of life, and more needs for care. The proportion out of contact was significantly higher in two practices that had employed their own mental health professionals to provides services on site for severe mental illnesses. Two factors remained significant predictors of contact in a logistic regression model: whether or not the patient's practice offered a special service on site, and greater patient needs for care. CONCLUSIONS: Secondary mental health services are being targeted towards the more needy patients. The provision of special services in practices can shift care further away from secondary care while still meeting patients' needs.