MENTAL health workers are being deployed to York and Selby GP surgeries to help tackle mental health problems which have soared in the wake of the pandemic.

The experienced practitioners are supporting doctors as first points of contact for local people experiencing mild to moderate mental health illnesses, reducing the wait - or even need - to see a GP.

A spokeswoman said they help assess people who contact surgeries with mental health related illnesses, ensuring they receive 'proactive, effective and timely' care as well as additional signposting advice and information if needed.

"They also liaise with relevant services where necessary, to ensure people receive the right referral first time and as quickly as possible," she said.

She said the pioneering project was the result of an ‘exciting’ new partnership between Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group, local Primary Care Networks and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV).

Ben Pryor, one of the new mental health workers, said: “Everyone is different, some people might simply need support accessing self-help information or understanding coping strategies, others may require signposting or referrals to specific services.

York Press: Ben Pryor, one of the new mental health workers

"We are able to make sure no matter what support people need; they get it as quickly as possible.

“Because of our expertise, we might also be able to give people some activities or therapies to help them straight away, even while they are waiting for wider treatments, which will reduce the length of time that they are experiencing distress and give them skills and tools to help themselves initially.”

John Manson, who has had experience of mental health services and has had input into the development of the new roles, said: “When I’ve been involved in services before I’ve had to tell numerous people my story repeatedly as part of the referral process and this can be incredibly difficult and traumatic, especially if after the initial referral you discover that you would be best placed under another service.

York Press: John Manson, who has had experience of mental health services and has had input into the development of the new roles

“I should only have to tell my story to one person and this is why I think these roles are crucial, as it’s an immediate link with an experienced professional who is there to help you and can give you the tools you need to support yourself or refer you to the right place, first time.”

Dr Nicholas Jackson, GP Principal and Clinical Director for Selby Town Primary Care Network, said demand for help with mental health was increasing, especially since the start of the pandemic.

"We are seeing many more people are contacting their GP with mental health concerns including anxiety, low mood and depression so having an experienced mental health professional they can speak to quickly and without a GP referral makes sense," he said.

The spokeswoman said recruitment to the new roles had already began with many professionals already in post, and further roles would be recruited into over the next two years with the aim of expanding the service.

She said the move was aligned to the 'Community Mental Health Transformation Programme,' which was developing and transforming local community mental health support to give people greater choice and control over their care.

David Kerr, Community Mental Health Transformation Programme and Delivery Lead for North Yorkshire and York said: “A wide variety of organisations across our local communities are working together in delivering and improving access to mental health care and wider support. Having mental health workers aligned to and working alongside colleagues in Primary Care is just one of the first steps being taken.”

Cllr Carol Runciman, Executive Member for Health and Adult Social Care at City of York Council, said: “Over the next three years, the ‘Connecting Our City’ partnership will be improving mental health support in the City to provide the support, activities and services that people want within their communities.

“This includes developing a pathway to recovery team at Foss Park hospital, piloting a mental health hub, investing in a hub network and outreach support as well as partnering with the local voluntary and community sector to better connect people to activities and support in their communities which addresses the ‘whole person, whole life."