Objective: This study evaluated the 6-month outcome of patients referred by their general practitioner (GP) to a consultation-liaison (C-L) psychiatry service provided to eight group general practices.
Method: Over a 12-month period, there were 307 referrals to the C-L psychiatry service of whom 86 consented to take part in an outcome study. Two different control groups were examined comprising patients seen by the same GPs but not referred to the C-L service, who were matched with the C-L referrals on the basis of either demographic characteristics (n = 86) or initial symptomatology (n = 59). Clinical interviews were conducted at recruitment to the outcome study using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), while postal questionnaires were used at both the initial and 6-month assessments.
Results: Data reported include DSM-III-R clinical audit and CIDI diagnoses, changes in current symptomatology (SCL-90-R) and changes in global ratings of physical health, emotional health, social relationships and ability to perform everyday duties. Consultation-liaison referrals without symptom-matched controls (n = 27), being patients with higher levels of symptoms initially, were more likely to be referred to other psychiatric services for treatment. They also showed more marked improvement over time on the selected outcome measures. However, there were no significant differences in the patterns of change over time between symptom-matched C-L referrals and their non-referred controls.
Conclusions: The findings from the 6-month outcome study raise doubts about the overall benefit of the current C-L service relative to usual GP care. Improving the quality of psychiatric care in general practice is likely to require a range of interrelated strategies, including C-L psychiatry services, GP education and well-functioning links with public mental health services.