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National Patient Safety Agency

NHS Practitioner Health Programme helps more than three in four clinicians to stay in or return to work

29 January 2010


A service launched last year for doctors and dentists who are suffering from health problems has been successful in treating clinicians.


New findings published today (29 January) reveal that 77 per cent of practitioners who were assessed and treated by the NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) for health problems were able to stay in or return to work.


The PHP, a Department of Health funded pilot initiative, is a free, confidential service for doctors and dentists who live or work in the London area.


Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson came up with the idea for the service after identifying that doctors do not always have the same access to healthcare as their patients.


Sir Liam said:  “Previously, doctors affected by physical or mental illness found it extremely difficult to access appropriate and confidential care. This service 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.


“From the number of patients accessing the PHP during its first year of operation, it is clear that there is a need for this highly specialised service.


“Never before have we had such a service that helps doctors in great need and protects patients.  This initiative will attract great interest internationally because the problem is there in all medical workplaces around the world.”


Practitioner-patients access the service in a primary care setting where a team of GPs, nurses, psychiatrists and therapists jointly assess and manage their care.  Referrals for treatment can also be made to one of four sites – the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust; Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; the Capio Nightingale Hospital and Clouds House in Wiltshire.


NHS Practitioner Health Programme’s Medical Director, Dr Clare Gerada, said: “Doctors and dentists like everyone else are only human and suffer from conditions and illnesses like the rest of us.  We have found that the sooner they access the service when they are experiencing a health problem, the speedier their recovery will be.”


Dr Gerada added: “We also know that there have been times when doctors or dentists have attempted to manage their own health conditions rather than seek a consultation or treatment. 


“Under this initiative, doctors and dentists have access to advice, help and treatment.  This enables them to stay well and to ensure they are able to provide high quality care to their patients.”


Previous studies have shown significant rates of depression, anxiety and substance misuse in healthcare professionals, especially doctors.  Suicide is higher in doctors and dentists than in the general population.


Dr Gerada added: “The PHP has demonstrated in the first year that doctors and dentists will access such a service if it is available and that by offering help, support and treatment practitioner-patients can maintain a healthy working life and also can return to work after a long period of absence.  This is a benefit to patients, employers as well as the clinicians themselves.”


Sue McLellen is Chief Operating Officer of the London Specialised Commissioning Group (LSCG).


She said: “We are delighted that this innovative model of care is supporting medical and dental practitioners in London.  We will continue to work with the PHP to ensure its continued effectiveness.”


Dr Steve Field, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners fully endorses the service.  He said: "PHP fills an enormous gap in supporting doctors who struggle with health problems."


Professor Alastair Scotland, who chaired a recent working group looking at the health of health professionals said: “I’m keen that PHP-type services are made available to all health professionals across the country because, at over one million, NHS staff make up the biggest single group of patients for the NHS but they often struggle to access the same standard of services as other patients. 


“Evidence shows that ill health in health professionals may remain hidden, with potential impact on quality of care provided for patients.  We need three or four of these services across England, backed up by a panel of GPs and occupational physicians with extra training to treat health professionals.”


Any medical or dental practitioner can use the service, where they have:

  • a mental health or addiction concern (at any level of severity) and/or
  • a physical health concern (where that concern may impact on the practitioner’s performance).



The ‘First Year of Operation’ report, produced by the PHP and its commissioners, the London Specialised Commissioning Group, found out of those seen by the PHP, two thirds of practitioner-patients presented with mental health problems while the remaining third had addiction problems.  An additional two per cent were assessed as having physical health or mixed issues.


For more information about the service, please visit www.php.nhs.uk




Note to editors:


1. The Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) is a service for medical and dental practitioners living or working within the London Strategic Health Authority area with issues that may relate to a mental or physical health concern or addiction problems, in particular where this might be affecting work.


PHP is funded by the Department of Health. The London Specialised Commissioning Group (LSCG) managed the commissioning of the PHP in conjunction with the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS).


The PHP will give advice on accessing local services and will provide prompt, confidential treatment where local services are unable to meet practitioners’ needs. The PHP is a key component of the Health for Health Professionals work stream



2. Media enquiries to the NPSA Press Office:

Simon Morgan – 020 7927 9580 / simon.morgan@npsa.nhs.uk

Dinah Lartey – 020 7927 9351 / dinah.lartey@npsa.nhs.uk

Out of hours – 0788 411 5956



3. The National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS) was set up in 2001 and, since 2005, has been a division of the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA).


NCAS provides advice, support and formal assessment in respect of doctors, dentists and, since April 2009 following recommendations in the White Paper Trust, Assurance and Safety, pharmacists.


NCAS provides its services to healthcare professionals throughout the UK, to the NHS, the independent sector and Defence Medical Services, and to the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Gibraltar.



4. The NPSA is an Arm’s Length Body of the Department of Health. It encompasses three divisions; the National Research Ethics Service, the National Reporting and Learning Service and the National Clinical Assessment Service. Each has its own sphere of expertise to improve patient outcomes. The NPSA’s vision is to lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing healthcare individuals and organisations. For more information visit: www.npsa.nhs.uk.