Behavioural health consultants in integrated primary care teams: a model for future care

Hannah Dale*, Alyssa Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Significant challenges exist within primary care services in the United Kingdom (UK). These include meeting current demand, financial pressures, an aging population and an increase in multi-morbidity. Psychological services also struggle to meet waiting time targets and to ensure increased access to psychological therapies. Innovative ways of delivering effective primary care and psychological services are needed to improve health outcomes.Summary: In this article we argue that integrated care models that incorporate behavioural health care are part of the solution, which has seldom been argued in relation to UK primary care. Integrated care involves structural and systemic changes to the delivery of services, including the co-location of multi-disciplinary primary care teams. Evidence from models of integrated primary care in the United States of America (USA) and other higher-income countries suggest that embedding continuity of care and collaborative practice within integrated care teams can be effective in improving health outcomes. The Behavioural Health Consultant (BHC) role is integral to this, working psychologically to support the team to improve collaborative working, and supporting patients to make changes to improve their health across management of long-term conditions, prevention and mental wellbeing. Patients' needs for higher-intensity interventions to enable changes in behaviour and self-management are, therefore, more fully met within primary care. The role also increases accessibility of psychological services, delivers earlier interventions and reduces stigma, since psychological staff are seen as part of the core primary care service. Although the UK has trialled a range of approaches to integrated care, these fall short of the highest level of integration. A single short pilot of integrated care in the UK showed positive results. Larger pilots with robust evaluation, as well as research trials are required. There are clearly challenges in adopting such an approach, especially for staff who must adapt to working more collaboratively with each other and patients. Strong leadership is needed to assist in this, particularly to support organisations to adopt the shift in values and attitudes towards collaborative working. Conclusions: Integrated primary care services that embed behavioural health as part of a multi-disciplinary team may be part of the solution to significant modern day health challenges. However, developing this model is unlikely to be straight-forward given current primary care structures and ways of working. The discussion, developed in this article, adds to our understanding of what the BHC role might consist off and how integrated care may be supported by such behavioural health expertise. Further work is needed to develop this model in the UK, and to evaluate its impact on health outcomes and health care utilisation, and test robustly through research trials.
Original languageEnglish
Article number97
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Family Practice
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2016


  • Behavioural Health
  • Biopsychosocial
  • Collaboration
  • Health inequalities
  • Integration
  • Prevention
  • Primary Care
  • Psychology
  • Service improvement


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