NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has broken new ground by assigning the first psychiatrist in Scotland with dedicated time to improve the physical health of mental health patients.
Dr Moira Connolly, a consultant psychiatrist in the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit (IPCU) at Gartnavel Royal Hospital, has taken up this unique role which will see her work closely with medical and nursing staff, physiotherapists and community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) to highlight the importance of good physical health care and physical activity for mental health patients.
Dr Connolly has a long running interest in the physical health of mental health patients whether they are inpatients or outpatients. She has a Masters’ degree in public health and has published papers on the subject in collaboration with academic partners at the University of Glasgow, the most recent being ‘The impact of socioeconomic deprivation on rate and cause of death in severe mental illness'.
Ensuring the physical health of patients, whether they have mental health issues or not, can make a massive difference. It is even more important for mental health patients to be in the best physical health they can be to help them cope with their mental health issues.
Dr Connolly said: “The ultimate aim is to drive down disparity in mortality rates for people with major mental health illnesses who are two and a half times more likely to die at an early age compared with the rest of the population.
“For some people their psychiatric medications are life changing in a positive way.
“But we know that as a result of medication patients may experience sedation and metabolic side effects.
“Their appetite for fatty and salty food can increase, leading to weight gain, and they can potentially develop diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
“We also know that smoking rates are higher amongst mental health patients.
“Encouraging patients to be more active will counter some of the negative effects of medication and like most things it is best if we can intervene early.”
Community Psychiatric Nurses encourage physical activity by promoting access to gyms, and outdoor activities to maintain their levels of activity. They also discuss smoking cessation programmes with patients and so far the feedback from patients has been positive.
Dr Connolly added: “This can only be successful if you have good and enthusiastic people behind you and strong collaborations, and we have that in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. I am looking forward to the opportunity to further develop the work that is already in place.”
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