Mental Health Helpline for Doctors and Dentists

Peter Russell

October 22, 2019

More than 180,000 doctors and dentists in England can now access round-the-clock confidential advice to support mental wellbeing.

The NHS Practitioner Health Programme service is currently staffed by 200 experts whose training is tailored to understand the specific circumstances of clinical life.

It was introduced to help address the growing problem of burnout in the health service.

Announcing the start of the service, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, said in a statement: "Our incredible NHS would be nothing without our outstanding, devoted staff. Many of them face incredibly challenging, and often distressing, situations on a daily basis and we owe it to staff to provide the mental and physical health support they need to deliver consistently high-quality care for patients.

"There is a lot of work taking place across the country to improve the offer to staff and dedicated support to all doctors and dentists in the country is a key part of this.

"I'm determined to provide those who care for us the full backing they deserve and open doors to specialist services to turn to whenever they need help."

Stress in the Workplace

The 24/7 service has a dedicated phone line for 6 days a week and an out-of-hours crisis text line for staff who have faced a stressful incident at work, feel they are struggling with their mental health, or have addiction problems.

After initial contact, staff are given a link to an app where they can book appointments for assessment and treatment from a clinician of their choice. Treatment can involve medication, support while off work, and access to a range of individual and group therapies.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that feedback from a pilot had been very positive, with 88% of users saying that the service had a positive impact on their wellbeing, and 85% saying it had a positive impact on their ability to work and train.

Dr Clare Gerada, medical director of NHS Practitioner Health, said: "No doctor or dentist need shy away from seeking help. They can be assured of the same levels of confidentiality we would afford members of the public who access care, and the stigma and barriers to seeking help through mainstream NHS services have been removed."

'More Resources and Funding Needed'

Dr Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the British Medical Association, commented: "At a time when the NHS is severely under-resourced and over-stretched, it's never been more important that the health and wellbeing of our dedicated, hardworking staff is prioritised.

"Access to free, confidential, 24/7 mental health advice and support for doctors through NHS Practitioner Health is certainly a step in the right direction – and something the BMA has long called for – but we need the wider issues facing our health service resolved if we’re ever to see real change.

"Staff should not feel so overwhelmed that their mental health is put in jeopardy when they go to work, which is why we desperately need to see more resources and funding to ensure we can protect the wellbeing of all those working in and using the NHS."

Stress in Dentistry

The British Dental Association (BDA) welcomed the announcement. Its own research, published in the British Dental Journal, found high levels of stress and burnout among the profession, with 17.6% admitting they had seriously thought about committing suicide.

Almost half of the 2053 dentists who responded said that stress in their job exceeded their ability to cope.

Issues relating to regulation and fear of litigation were deemed to be the most stressful aspects of being a dentist.

Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA, said: "For too long practitioners in desperate need of support were either expected to suffer in silence, or struggle to access basic services, resulting in too many dentists exiting the profession early or worse.

"We're very pleased that the highly regarded, confidential NHS Practitioner Health Programme has now been extended to all NHS dentists across England, and the stigma and barriers to seeking help through mainstream NHS services have been removed."

How to contact NHS Practitioner Health

Call 0300 0303 300 or email prac.health@nhs.net

The phone line is open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm.

Text NHSPH to 85258 for the out-of-hours crisis text service.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to include BDA comment.

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