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"Hips" (health improvement practitioners) will soon be at work at clinics across Otago and Southland.
Unlike most clinicians, they do not see patients on appointment. Rather, they are available on immediate referral from a GP or nurse if they feel the patient could benefit.
The scheme, which mirrors an initiative recommended in last year’s Government-commissioned inquiry into mental health services, was tested over 10 months by WellSouth at Te Kaika in Dunedin and the Invercargill Medical Centre.
Te Kaika medical director Kim Ma’ia’i said the clinic would now not want to be without a Hip.
“It was an instant game-changer, a win-win for patient and practice."
Genevieve Gaskill, who worked as a Hip at Te Kaika during the trial, is now helping train new Hips who will eventually work at Aspiring Medical Centre, Clutha Health First, the Queenstown Medical Centre, Mornington Health Centre, Broadway Medical Centre and Te Kaika.
Further staff are planned for Invercargill, Gore and Oamaru.
Ms Gaskill said the role allowed them to work right in the heart of a medical centre.
"It fits well with my philosophy of how people should be able to access support, rather than being placed on a waiting list for six or eight weeks to then be told you either do or do not meet the criteria," she said.
"We got to a point at Te Kaika where a doctor or a nurse could identify quite early in an appointment that they could refer someone sideways to me."
She could then "explore in a little more depth and come up with something pragmatic which would lead the patient to where they wanted to be ultimately".
A Hip had to be flexible and ready and able to deal with anyone who came through their door, Ms Gaskill said.
"People who present to general practice with concerns about their mental health have to be referred somewhere else for that to be dealt with, but we are able to deal with that there and we can be effective in that setting."
In Budget 2019, the Government set aside $40million for mental health and addiction services in general practice, and planned that more than 350 Hips would be hired nationwide.
WellSouth nursing director Wendy Findlay said the new staff would provide free and timely support for people facing issues such as stress, addictions, social issues, or long-term physical health struggles.
“The immediacy of the help and the normalising of mental health services are among the benefits of the model.”