Provision of care to general practice patients with disabling long-term mental illness: a survey in 16 practices.
Kendrick T., Burns T., Freeling P., Sibbald B.
BACKGROUND: Increasing numbers of long-term mentally ill people now live in the community, many of whom lose contact with psychiatric services and come to depend on general practitioners for medical care. However, it has been suggested that general practitioners may be unaware of some of these patients and their needs. AIM: This study set out to investigate the care received by this group of patients. METHOD: Case registers of adults disabled by long-term mental illness were set up in 16 of 110 group general practices asked to participate. A search of each practice's record systems was combined with a survey of local psychiatric and social service teams, to seek practice patients who might not be identified from the general practice data. RESULTS: Of the 440 patients found, 90% were identified from information within the practices, mainly computerized repeat prescription and diagnostic data. The other 10% were identified only by psychiatric services. Over one third of the patients had no current contact with psychiatric services. Patients in contact with psychiatric services had been ill for a shorter time than those not in contact. More patients suffering from psychotic illnesses were in current contact than those with non-psychotic diagnoses. Over 90% of the patients had been seen by their general practitioners within 12 months, on average eight times. Most consultations were for minor physical disorders, repeat prescriptions and sickness certificates. Elements of the formal mental state examination were recorded in one third of cases and adjustments of psychotropic medication in one fifth. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that patients in long-term contact with specialist services cannot be taken as representative of the whole population with long-term mental illness. General practitioners could use their frequent contacts with long-term mentally ill people to play a greater role in monitoring the mental state and drug treatment of this group.