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National Patient Safety Agency

London–based health service opens to provide specialist, confidential care for doctors and dentists

Monday 17 November 2008


Today (17 November) a new confidential health service will open for doctors and dentists living or working in the London area.  The new service – the Practitioner Health Programme is a Department of Health-funded initiative and will complement existing health services, providing appropriate and specialist care and support for any doctor or dentist with a mental or physical health concern or addiction.


The service, initially for two years as part of the work of building a national framework to support the health of clinical staff, has been launched in response to the particular issues doctors and dentists have in accessing appropriate heath care and how this can impact on patient safety, as Practitioner Health Programme lead, Dr Clare Gerada, explains:


“There is a tendency for doctors and dentists to manage their own health concerns, to self medicate or to chat informally to colleagues rather than seek a consultation and treatment.  For this reason health concerns sometimes go unreported or unrecognised.  This new service seeks to enable doctors and dentists to access the support and advice they need in a confidential and understanding environment.  When doctors and dentists are managing their health they are better equipped to provide quality care for their patients.”


The service will be led by Dr Clare Gerada, a general practitioner with specialist mental health and addiction expertise and considerable experience of treating doctors.  The team also includes a cognitive behavioural psychologist, a specialist addiction nurse, an occupational health physician and access to a wide range of psychiatrists and other specialist support. The clinical team has many years experience of NHS clinical practice specifically treating patients with complex needs.  They fully understand the working environment and the stresses and strains that health professionals are exposed to.


Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer said: “Previously, doctors affected by physical or mental illness found it extremely difficult to access appropriate and confidential care. The launch of the Practitioner Health Programme is a major step towards improving the care of medical staff. It offers specialised support to clinicians, allowing them to get the help they need so that we can ensure that they remain able to offer safe, high quality care to their patients.'


Alastair Scotland, Director of NCAS and Chairman of the Health of Health Professionals initiative, said: “From the cases referred to us at NCAS we know there is a real need for this confidential and specialist service.  This service is the first of its kind to provide a face to face assessment, treatment and onward referral in a primary care setting and will fill a gap in the current provision of services.  The development of this service will not only directly support the health of doctors and dentists, but will also mean those practitioners are in a better position to support the health of their own individual patients.  Our experience in taking forward this service will help us to build a national framework for the health of health professionals.”


Judith Husband, Vice Chair of the British Dental Association, said: “It takes courage for healthcare workers suffering from an illness or an addiction to acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place, so taking the next step in accessing appropriate treatment can present real difficulties.  We believe this dedicated, one-stop confidential service that has been designed specifically for health professionals, will make it much easier for dentists to get the support they need.”






Notes for editors:


For media enquiries please contact Amelia Lyons, Senior Media Manager, National Patient Safety Agency, on: 020 7927 9580 / amelia.lyons@npsa.nhs.uk or Paul Cooney on: 0207 927 9351 / paul.cooney@npsa.nhs.uk


The Practitioner Health Programme is a free, confidential service for doctors and dentists who have mental or physical health concerns and/or addiction problems.


The service offers:


  • Expert assessment, provided by a team comprising a doctor, nurse, psychologist and occupational health physician – all with considerable experience in treating health professionals.

  • Advice and support on managing health concerns, including mental health and addiction problems, as well as physical health where it may affect a practitioner’s ability to work.

  • Signposting to peer support and other help.

  • Onward referral to specialists where required.

  • Liaison with local health services and back to work support.

  • General advice to practitioners’ colleagues and families, Trusts and PCT’s.


In addition, the service will offer a continuity of care when required.  This will include specialist assessment and treatment for mental health and addiction cases.  These additional services will be provided by: The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust; Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust (including the MedNet service), Capio Nightingale and Clouds House in Wiltshire.


NCAS is an operating division of the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) and its role includes:


  • Helping organisations manage concerns about the performance of individual doctors and dentists.

  • Promoting the development of local and national procedures for preventing, identifying and resolving concerns.

  • Assessing the performance of individual doctors and dentists.

  • Making recommendations about ways in which their performance should be improved.

  • Assisting a practitioner and a health organisation to devise and implement an action plan to address requirements for improvement.


NCAS does not take on the role of an employer, nor does it function as a regulator. It is established as an advisory body, and the referrer retains responsibility for handling the case throughout the process.


NCAS was established in 2001 for doctors in England. The scope of the service has since been extended to include dentists, the Defence Medical Services, the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service as well as Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.


The Trust Assurance and Safety is the Department of Health White Paper on reform to professional regulation.