Practitioner Health funding to be pulled for hospital doctors

A move to stop funding mental health and addiction services for NHS hospital doctors has been described as ‘cruel’ by the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK).

NHS Practitioner Health has been given just days’ notice that its funding for secondary care will be paused from this Monday (15 April).

This is while a period of consultation is carried out on the service, which is currently treating more than 6,000 doctors and healthcare professionals, 60 per cent of whom are hospital staff.

It means that no new referrals will be accepted from Monday, leaving vulnerable doctors experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and addiction without access to support. Current clients will continue to be seen.

Ms Helen Fernandes, co-chair of DAUK, said: “This service is so important and given the pressure that our secondary care doctors and healthcare professionals are under, it’s needed more than ever.

“To turn off the funding just like that, with no warning and nothing in place is absolutely outrageous.

Head and shoulders image of DAUK co-chair Ms Helen Fernandes
Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) co-chair Ms Helen Fernandes

“These are real people who are in trouble and distress. They will need some support somewhere, so where do they go?

“The commissioners that fund the service want to do a piece of work to find out if it’s value for money, so rather than do that piece of work and keep the service running at the same time they’re going to stop it, which seems a really bizarre thing to do.”

NHS Practitioner Health

NHS Practitioner Health is a free, confidential service for doctors and dentists across England with mental illness and addiction problems, who are working or looking to return to clinical practice. This service is a commitment as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Dr Peter Bailey, who qualified as a GP in 1984 and has worked for NHS Practitioner Health for five years, said: “I feel incredibly passionate about the decision that’s been made – it’s wrong-headed and stupid.

“I can’t imagine anybody working for workforce wellbeing in the whole of the world who will think this is a good idea, to cancel a service that’s working perfectly well while you have a think about whether you want to continue funding it.

“It’s ludicrous.”

Dr Bailey said the service was originally set up following the tragic death of a hospital doctor who was unable to access confidential help for her mental illness.

He said: “If someone like her were to call Practitioner Health on Monday, she would be turned away.”

Support for doctors

Another doctor who works for NHS Practitioner Health but wanted to remain anonymous said: “For six months it’s likely there will be no support via Practitioner Health for addicted or suicidal hospital doctors.

“It’s clear people will be rejected from Monday

“This is due to new commissioners, lack of funding, and poor awareness of the importance of supporting clinicians, not only for their own health but for patient safety issues.”

More than 32,000 doctors and healthcare professionals have been treated by the service since it was founded in 2008.

Ms Fernandes said: “To pull out a major support service for hospital-based doctors seems rather cruel. We’re calling on the commissioners to reverse the decision.

“The funding of this service will be tiny in comparison to the NHS budget but the work it does is huge.”

We’ve contacted the GMC for help on the issue.

In a statement, Practitioner Health said: “We have been in discussion with NHS England over arrangements for the service from 1 April 2024 and want to reassure all patients who are already registered with the service that this does not alter your situation. We will continue to support all existing patients to complete their treatment.

“NHS England are undertaking a review of the staff support offer for mental health across all staff groups to consider long term sustainable options. We will contribute to the review.

“On this basis we have agreed with NHS England to halt new registrations for secondary care staff from 15 April 2024 onwards. New secondary care patients will be signposted to alternative sources of support, including your GP, occupational health departments and organisational employee assistance programmes.

“The arrangements for the primary care element of Practitioner Health have been extended for a further 12 months to 31 March 2025.”