27 February 2017

GPs are Trained in All Aspects of Mental Health, Including Eating Disorders, Says RCGP

Responding to figures from Beat, published today, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

"Eating disorders can have severe consequences for patients, and GPs - who will often be the first port of call for patients when seeking medical advice whether specifically about their eating disorder, or not - take them very seriously.

"It is simply not true that GPs are not trained to identify and treat patients with eating disorders – as with all other aspects of mental health, eating disorders are included in the comprehensive GP curriculum, which all GPs must demonstrate competence of before being able to practise independently as a GP in the UK.

"It is also not the case that NICE guidelines recommend immediate referral for all patients GPs suspect of having an eating disorder, as in some cases the condition can be dealt with effectively in primary care. Some patients, for a number of reasons, might not want a referral and in these cases the GP will respect their wishes. So the findings of Beat's survey regarding referral are neither surprising nor inappropriate - they are actually more indicative of GPs' understanding of and sensitivity towards patient choice and the elephant in the room; a severe lack of appropriate services in the community for GPs to refer patients on to.

"The figures highlight the intense pressures that GPs are under. We are highly trained to take into account the physical, psychological and social factors affecting a patient when making a diagnosis, and developing a treatment plan – with complex patients, and mental health conditions are almost always very complex, this simply isn't possible within the constraints of the standard 10-minute consultation, particularly if the eating disorder was not the reason the patient visited their GP in the first place.

"More, appropriate training that can help us to deliver the best possible care for our patients is always welcome, and the College has long called for GP training to be extended to four years to include a mandatory specialist-led placement in mental health – and today's figures support this call. In the meantime, mental health will continue to be an enduring priority for the RCGP and we have developed a number of e-learning courses, including one on eating disorders with Anorexia Bulimia Care. We are also working with Mind to develop resources, including a forthcoming Top Tips document on eating disorders, to encourage GPs to incorporate mental health, including eating disorders, into their continued professional development.

"Ultimately what is necessary is for substantially more investment in general practice and more GPs so we can offer longer consultations to those patients who really need them – and a greater quantity and variety of mental health services in the community that would be of great benefit to our patients with eating disorders. NHS England's GP Forward View has pledged that every GP practice will have access to a trained mental health therapist by 2020 - and we are calling for this to be implemented as a matter of urgency."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.