A pilot scheme has been launched in GP surgeries in Lewisham and North Staffordshire to improve healthcare professionals' knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around mental health.

The pilot is designed and run by anti-stigma campaign Time to Change. It was devised after research showed that people with mental health problems still face significant discrimination in primary care services. With 9 in 10 people with a mental health problem only seen in primary care, Time to Change says it is vital that they are able to receive the support they need without facing prejudice.

As part of the project, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Time to Change trainers, who have themselves experienced mental health problems, will work with everyone from GPs and nurses to reception staff to deliver two specially designed training tools. This approach has been taken following the evaluation of an earlier pilot among primary care staff, which found that when asked whether they would be willing to work with someone who had a mental health problem, 76% agreed before the training but 92% agreed afterwards. 

The first tool will see staff receiving a 10-minute face-to-face conversation with a trainer. The trainer will discuss their experience of primary care and share stories of the stigma or discrimination they have faced there. The trainer and the healthcare professional will then work together to agree ways they could make adjustments to their practice such as having literature available for patients about mental health problems.

A second tool is available online so that GPs and primary care staff can continue their learning in their own time. The tool will bring together bite-size information and links to resources to make the training more feasible for busy surgeries. Three topics will be covered including; ‘Being more mental health aware; ‘Making adjustments in surgeries’ and ‘Physical vs mental health’.

The training runs until March 2013 and aims to train 300 healthcare professionals. The trainers will aim to train a range of people in each primary care setting to get the whole practice thinking and talking about how they can support people with mental health problems.

If successful it is hoped that the project will become self-funded and be commissioned in other areas.

Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said: “There is evidence that people are still reporting discrimination when using primary care services. At the same time, GPs and other primary care staff also say that they don't get enough training on mental health. That is what has led to the piloting of this new bite-size training package, which is being delivered by people who have themselves used primary care services for mental health problems. After building up an evidence base, we would ultimately like to see this available in GP practices across the country.”