New support line connecting general practitioners to local psychiatrists to support their patients with mental health issues

Mental health issues have a significant impact on rural and regional communities who face unique challenges in accessing mental health care and general practitioners play a crucial role in providing and facilitating mental health care in these areas. Investing in innovative models of healthcare, including collaborative care, provides a great opportunity to support our rural and regional GPs to provide their patients with the care they need, closer to home.

The GP Psychiatry Support Line, launched by WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) and WA Country Health Service (WACHS), extends the expertise of regional psychiatrists into primary care through GPs.

When needed, GPs can use the support line for advice relating to the assessment, care and management of patients with mental health issues. It is not about triaging or referring patients to a psychiatrist, but rather keeping them within the primary care setting, under the care of their GP.

This new service means local GPs have the support they need to confidently treat their patients with mental health issues and keep them within the primary care setting if that’s what is most beneficial for them.

WA Primary Health Alliance Regional Manager Great Southern, Lesley Pearson said it is extremely important that local GPs feel well supported in providing quality mental health care in general practice.

“General practitioners play a vital role in providing mental health care to the community and manage the majority of people who present to health services with mental health issues.

“By providing this support line, we can make sure GPs feel confident in managing common mental health and alcohol and other drug conditions.

“This initiative was developed with local GPs, who feel the support line will help them to get treatment underway more efficiently and effectively.”

One of the team available through the Great Southern GP Psychiatry Support Line, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Kelly Ridley.

The team of psychiatrists providing the service also identify common knowledge or service gaps in primary care to then develop targeted education and training sessions for GPs in the region.

Local psychiatrists A/Prof Mathew Coleman, Dr Kelly Ridley and Dr Hugh Simpson are available via the support line.

WA Country Health Service Consultant Psychiatrist and Great Southern Mental Health Service Clinical Director, Mathew Coleman said the new service enhanced the expert care received in primary care, whilst facilitating best practice standards and care across the region.

“This service is staffed by local psychiatrists who know the local context and ensures input into patient care is timely and responsive to their needs. It also ensures specialised support is available in the most accessible way.

“Increased professional networks between mental health and primary care clinicians will also encourage two-way information sharing, strengthening workforce capability and capacity.”

WA Country Health Service Regional Director, Geraldine Ennis said the organisation was proud to be working with WAPHA to deliver accessible, on-the-ground specialist services to the Great Southern.

“In addition to the Mental Health Emergency Telehealth Service, with the commencement of the Great Southern GP Psychiatry Support Line, we are reshaping the way primary and secondary care work together, particularly in regional areas.”

The support line is free and available to GPs Monday to Friday, between 8.30am and 6pm.

The support line is available to all GPs in the Great Southern region and will be evaluated over the next 18 months.

WA Primary Health Alliance involvement in this activity was made possible through funding provided by the Australian Government under the PHN Program.