First Annual Report of Programme which helps dentists and doctors with health difficulties

First Annual Report of Programme which helps dentists and doctors with health difficulties

(04 Apr 2017)

First Annual Report of Programme which helps dentists and doctors with health difficulties.

Substance misuse was the most common standalone presenting problem followed by anxiety and depression.

A new service, the Practitioner Health Matters Programme (PHMP), which supports health professionals who may have addiction or mental health issues, has confirmed it helped 47 practitioners in its first year of operation.

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. Mr Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the Irish Dental Association, is Honorary secretary of the Programme. A copy of the report is available to view here.

The issues

In its first annual report the PHMP said 30 practitioners presented with a single problem at registration while 17 had more than one problem.

Substance misuse was the most common standalone presenting problem (15) followed by anxiety (6) and depression (4). Where practitioners presented with a combination of issues, depression was the most common presentation (13) followed by anxiety (10) with substance misuse in combination with other symptoms being found in a further seven cases.

While women made up just under half of the total (23), they were the clear majority in both the youngest (24-29) and oldest (60-69) age groups. While there were eight women in the youngest age group, their highest representation, this was the group with the least number of men, with just three. Overall the largest number of registrations, 13, was represented in both the 30-39 and 50-59 age groups.

Almost half of all referrals were self-referrals (22) while eight referrals were made by a consultant psychiatrist and six were referred by a colleague.

The Outcomes

Over half of all practitioners patients registered on the programme have continued working in their professions and with the support provided by PHMP, did not require to take time off work. Six were required to stop working for a period of time but have now either returned or are returning to work in the near future.

Seven patients are not currently working; of these one has retired and the others are deemed unfit for practice and are under ongoing review. Seven others are attending the Health Committee of the Medical Council.

Clinical Lead Dr Íde Delargy

Dr Íde Delargy, the Clinical Lead for the new Programme said health professionals are very slow to come forward to declare that they may have a mental health or alcohol or drug related problems due to reputational/confidentiality issues. She said they also generally present when in crisis, often having tried to self manage and self-medicate their problem.

“After our first year in operation the PHMP has offered almost 50 practitioners access to a high standard of care in a nonjudgmental atmosphere and with complete confidentiality assured. We want to get the message out there that health professionals in difficulty can come to us to have their health needs met” she said.

“Early intervention is key and while taking that first step can be extremely challenging, for the person involved or their friend or family, it can also be lifesaving. If practitioners come forward early and get the help they need the statistics show their chances of getting back to work are very good.  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.

The future

Like the general public, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 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 between 10 -15%. It’s believed the rates amongst doctors, dentists and pharmacists are at the upper end of this spectrum and they are also considered to have higher suicide rates.

Mr Hugh Kane, the Chairperson of the PHMP said that with over 25,000 doctors, pharmacists and dentists in the country the PHMP would anticipate that in excess of 2,000 practitioners may require help on an annual basis.

“One of our main aims for 2017 will be to engage in an awareness raising campaign of this service amongst health professionals. The other is to establish a sustainable funding model for the Programme. “

“From the start we didn’t want the lack of funding to be a barrier to the service and we don’t believe it has. However as demand for the service grows we will require additional funding and resources and we will be looking to all the relevant bodies to support us in our endeavours to develop the service further in the year ahead.”

For full details of the Programme go to