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Is NHS Direct meeting the needs of mental health callers?

Background: NHS Direct is a new service that offers 24-hour advice from trained nurses. The National Service Framework for Mental Health and the National Strategy for Carers both mention NHS Direct as an important source of support for people with mental health problems. Aims: This paper reports findings from an evaluation of the Department of Health's NHS Direct mental health initiative. This initiative was established to ensure that NHS Direct can meet the needs of callers with mental health problems by offering additional training to all staff and improving the database of mental health services. Method: The findings reported here are based on routine computer data provided by 12 out of 17 NHS Direct sites, 552 data forms completed by nurse advisers from the 17 sites, and 111 questionnaires administered over the telephone with callers to the 17 sites. Results: Mental health calls accounted for 3% of NHS Direct's workload, although these calls were often longer and more complex than other calls. The majority of callers to the service were in touch with other services for their mental health problems (59%), typically their GP. Most callers had 'moderate' mental health problems, as indicated by the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale. Generally callers were satisfied with the service they received, although satisfaction was lower in some areas than previous studies of NHS Direct. Conclusions: Improvements could be made in the mechanisms for referring callers on to other services, and training to increase nurse advisers' knowledge of mental health problems.

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Journal of Mental Health

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Social care online
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