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Can a self-referral system help improve access to psychological treatments?

16 July 201

IoP researchers have been looking at the pros and cons of a self-referral system to see if this method would  improve access for patients to psychological treatments.

The study is relevant to the Department of Health’s initiative, Improved Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).  IAPT addresses some shortfalls of the current service by expanding the provision of psychological therapists and thereby increasing public access to effective and professional help.

Dr June Brown, lead author of ‘Can a self-referral system help improve access to psychological treatments?’ published in the British Journal of General Practice, said: 'How people get access to psychological treatments has been problematic for a number of years. Long waiting lists have developed, mainly because of the small capacity of these services. In addition, only about 30% of those with psychological problems consult their GPs for these problems. Possible reasons include failure to recognise the problem as psychological and therefore not consulting a GP and/or the problem not being detected by the GP.

'Despite some scepticism that a self-referral system may encourage people with relatively minor problems to access already limited services, previous research has shown that those self-referring to advertised psychological workshops had psychological problems in need of treatment and were also more representative of the population, in terms of ethnicity, than GP referrals.

'In our study we found that the self-referral route has major advantages for improved access to those who would otherwise not receive services. If structured properly it could work out extremely well and improve access for those who may not have been able to get access before as well as those who have never thought of consulting.

'Notably, the IAPT programme is allowing self-referrals such that any member of the public can access the service directly, bypassing general practice. Although this is not available at all the sites, this represents a radical shift from the present system of GP referral. The implications of this new development are discussed in the paper.'

‘Can a self-referral system help improve access to psychological treatments?’ was published in The British Journal of General Practice. To read the article in full, please follow the link.

The research was conducted as part of the Common Mental Disorders Theme of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for Mental Health. The aim of the BRC is to speed up the pace that latest medical research findings are turned into improved clinical care and services. The BRC is based in the heart of Europe’s largest mental healthcare provider South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and its research partner Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.

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