New Practitioner Health Matters Programme launched to support health professionals

The Practitioner Health Matters Programme aims to strike a balance between supporting practitioners confidentially and patient safety.

A new service, the Practitioner Health Matters Programme (PHMP), which aims to support health professionals who may have a mental health difficulty or an alcohol- or drug-related problem, has been launched in Dublin.

The new Programme, which is open to doctors, dentists and pharmacists, has been designed to reflect international best practice in practitioner health.

An independent charitable organisation, the PHMP has the support of the representative and training bodies for the medical, dental and pharmacy professions, as well as the three professional regulatory bodies for those professions.

Like the general public, one in four practitioners may have mental health difficulties at some point in their lives. With alcohol- or drug-related problems, the rates in the general population are around 10-15%, and we may find similar rates among doctors, dentists and pharmacists.

Addressing a need

Dr Íde Delargy, Clinical Lead for the new Programme, said there is clearly a need out there, as health professionals are very slow to come forward to declare that they may have a mental health or alcohol- or drug-related problem. She said health practitioners were often reluctant to come forward because the people they needed to approach were very often their peers and this was a potential barrier to treatment.

“The key to overcoming this reluctance is to ensure that they will receive a high standard of care in a non-judgmental atmosphere and with complete confidentiality assured. We want people affected by these issues to seek help early and to know they can come forward safely and in confidence to have their health needs met.

We have a memorandum of understanding with each of the regulators, so they recognise the work that we’re doing and support it but they’re not involved. This arm’s length relationship is very important if we are to encourage more health practitioners to contact us and access the support they may need. We won’t refer anyone to the regulators unless they are not willing to comply with the treatment programme and/or are putting patients at risk.”

“Generally speaking, practitioners who access a service from a designated programme like this do extremely well and about 80% recover and return to working well,” she said.

International evidence would indicate that some practitioners are at higher risk than others. Dr Delargy said: “While practitioners in their middle years are still the cohort most commonly affected, there is increasing evidence that younger practitioners at an earlier stage in their careers are starting to present more frequently in such programmes”.

Hugh Kane, Chairperson of the PHMP, said: “This is clearly an important service for practitioners. Often the person experiencing difficulties is the last person to realise they need help. That is why we are raising awareness around these issues and we would encourage colleagues, family and friends to watch out for everything from subtle warning signs to the more obvious ones. Discussing these issues with someone in difficulty can be extremely challenging, but it can also be lifesaving. Early intervention is key. Ignoring problems, as we often did in the past, benefits no one”.

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