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Health Soc Care Community. 2004 Jul;12(4):336-45.

Primary care mental health workers: role expectations, conflict and ambiguity.

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  • 1National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


A number of professionals are involved in mental health in primary care. The NHS Plan proposed the introduction of a new professional, the primary care mental health worker (PCMHW), to improve care in this setting. The present study was conducted to examine pilot PCMHW-type roles currently in existence, to explore staff expectations concerning the new PCMHW role and to consider the issues relating to roles in primary care mental health that are raised by this new worker. The study used a case study design, and involved qualitative interviews with 46 managers and clinicians from primary care and specialist mental health services, including pilot PCMHW-type roles. The key findings were as follows: The pilot PCMHW-type roles were almost exclusively related to client work, whereas respondents had far wider role expectations of the new PCMHWs, relating to perceived gaps in current service provision. This highlights the potential for role conflict. Secondly, there was disagreement and ambiguity among some respondents as to the nature of the new PCMHW's role in client work, and its relationship with the work undertaken by other mental health professionals such as counsellors, psychologists and nurses. Given that multiple professionals are involved in mental health care in primary care, issues relating to roles are likely to be crucial in the effective implementation of the new PCMHWs.

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