The fact that people who are using mental health services have a life expectancy in their 50s is not due to inadequate access to general practitioners (GPs) but is more likely to represent a need for improved quality of primary health care.
The findings by researchers at The University of Western Australia's School of Population Health published in the Medical Journal of Australia, follows on from the 2001 Duty to Care study which highlighted the very poor physical health outcomes in those who use mental health services (MHS).
The study cohort included people with moderate to severe mental health problems, including schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and chronic alcohol-related mental problems, representing about eight per cent of the population of Western Australia.
Lead author Dr Qun Mai and her team sought to identify whether users of MHS lack access to GP services. In fact, it found that users of MHS from all categories of mental disorders visited GPs more often that non-users.
Dr Mai said although it was encouraging that most users of MHS seem able to gain access to GPs, the poorer physical outcomes in this group may mean that they have not benefited from their higher use of GP services.
"The research suggests we would do better to focus on how to improve the quality and preventive value of existing contacts between patients with mental illness and their GPs."
"However, relying solely on GPs to provide preventive services might not be enough and a system-wide multidisciplinary and coordinated approach together with building a strong community-based MHS system, may be part of the solution to health inequities in this vulnerable and sizeable population," Dr Mai said.
The exception to this, which was consistent with other studies, was the four per cent of MHS users of no fixed address, who seldom visited GPs at all. For this group the study suggests the need to consider outreach programs to deliver basic preventive primary care to homeless people.