Mental Health Practitioners (MHPs) are patient-facing primary care mental health specialists funded by the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) and ICB funding since April 2021. The ARRS is funded by NHS England to expand the capacity of the workforce and includes roles such as paramedics, pharmacists, social prescribers and MHPs. Primary Care Networks (PCNs) decide which roles to implement based on the local population needs. MHPs were implemented in Kent and Medway to improve and speed up access mental health support for people presenting in primary care. The MHPs offer longer appointments with service users, the opportunity to create shared care plans and signpost people to the most appropriate support.

In late 2023, Health Innovation Kent Surrey Sussex (Health Innovation KSS) commissioned Unity Insights to evaluate the impact and implementation of MHPs in Kent and Medway, and to assess the ongoing sustainability of the MHP role in primary care. The analysis used mixed methods, including surveys, interviews, quantitative and health economic analysis.

The evaluation showed that MHPs had a positive impact on patients, primary care workforce, and the wider system, reducing the burden on GPs and improving patient experience and outcomes. MHPs were likely to be resource efficient and generate a positive return on investment and MHPs were generally satisfied with their role and the support they received, but some variation was observed across PCNs and between staff of different experience levels. Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) had a successful recruitment process and implemented a centralised management function to support MHPs and PCNs, which was seen as a key enabler for minimising variation and implementing best practice.

The recommendations for the future are to continue to recruit and retain MHPs and allocate dedicated resources for these activities, as well as engaging with PCNs that have not yet implemented MHPs and offer support where necessary. It was also recommended that more support, flexibility and autonomy should be given to MHPs to improve their experience and that further assessment should also be carried out to continue to understand the impact.

Dr Sam Fraser, Mental Health Lead at Health Innovation KSS, said: “Primary Care is usually the first place people will present if they are experiencing poor mental health and wellbeing.  We know that early intervention is the best approach to ensuring problems do not get worse for patients. As a result, building in more capacity and capability in Primary Care to tackle growing demand and offset escalation to secondary is vital.

The MHP roles if implemented effectively, offer an effective and timely solution as this evaluation piece demonstrates. In addition to adoption of the MHP’s role, we explored recruitment and retention; pivotal to ensuring long term sustainability. Kent and Medway have demonstrated creative and innovate ways to ensure that they were not only able to successfully recruit and build additional workforce capacity, but through thoughtful oversight and management they have been able to retain a significant proportion of their MHP’s since the schemes roll out.”

You can read the full report here or check out the summary and recruitment recommendations here. You can also find out more about the programme on NHS Futures.