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  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:New Ways of Working in Primary Care

    Gill Salmon1 & Amanda Kirby2

    1Trehafod Child and Family Clinic, Waunarlwydd Road, Cockett, Swansea SA2 OGB, and Welsh Institute for Health andSocial Care, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, Wales. E-mail: salmongn@doctors.uk2The Dyscovery Centre, Alltyryn Campus, University of Wales, Newport, NP20 5DA, Wales

    Children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and prescribed pharmacotherapyrequire ongoing regular follow-up for many years. Recent literature outlining the role of primary care in theongoing medication monitoring of children and young people with ADHD is reviewed. We propose that aGeneral Practitioner with a Specialist Interest (GPwSI) model could be developed in relation to ADHD toensure that shared care arrangements between CAMHS and primary care for children with ADHD are in place.Clinical materials to support GPs in this new role are described.

    Keywords: ADHD; primary care; GPwSI


    A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) has been shown to represent the most commonreason for follow-up in specialist Child and AdolescentMental Health Services (CAMHS) in the United Kingdom(Meltzer et al., 2000). Figures from the USA indicatethat between 3050% of referrals to CAMHS can beaccounted for by ADHD (Popper, 1988; Barkley, 1996).

    The average general practitioner (GP) can now expectto have between two and four children on their listreceiving treatment for ADHD (Meltzer et al., 2000). TheEuropean clinical guidelines for hyperkinetic disordersuggest that once a child is stabilised on medication forADHD, then they can be followed-up in primary care(Taylor et al., 1998, 2004). Similar guidance is offered inthe USA (AAP, 2001). Despite these recommendations,many GPs in the UK think that both initiation ofmedication for ADHD as well as its ongoing monitoringshould be provided by a specialist (Ball, 2001). Wedescribe the background literature on the involvementof GPs in the management of ADHD and discuss howgeneral practitioner with a special interest (GPwSI) inADHD posts might be developed to ensure that sharedcare arrangements between CAMHS and primary carefor children with ADHD are in place.

    Involvement of GPs in the management ofADHD

    In a survey of UK GPs views about ADHD managementin primary care, they seemed to see their role as one ofproviding ongoing prescribing as directed by specialistCAMHS alongside physical monitoring (Ball, 2001). Asimilar reluctance to become highly involved in the careof children with ADHD was expressed in a study ofAustralian GPs who indicated a preference for patientsto be referred to specialists for diagnosis and treatmentof ADHD and saw their own role as largely supportive

    (Shaw et al., 2003). Lack of training about ADHD andits management seems to be a major issue influencingGPs views (Ball, 2001). Kirby, Davies and Bryant (2005)showed that GP knowledge in the area of ADHD andrelated developmental disorders was less developedthan teachers, and there remained areas of confusion.

    Differing views of GPs, parents and specialists as tothe underlying causes of the childs ADHD may presentan additional barrier to GPs becoming more involved inits management (Klasen & Goodman, 2000; Shaw et al.,2003). Ventner, Van der Linde and Jouberts study(2003) of South African GPs demonstrated that themain obstacles identified were the time required, thatparents were perceived to be difficult; and reimburse-ment was poor. They also highlighted that some GPsreported alternative beliefs in the management ofchildren with ADHD. Thapar and Thapar (2002) suggestthat a clear strategy for the management of childrenwith ADHD is devised, with the roles and responsibil-ities of the different health care sectors being clearlydefined and agreed. They also advise that the resourceand training implications of providing good qualityADHD monitoring need to be addressed.

    Health policy and the creation of GPwSI posts

    The NHS Plan has as its aim the modernisation of theNHS and the way doctors and nurses work (DOH,2000). For GPs, the Plan also highlights the need tocreate new careers, in particular to create intermediatepractitioners. It is envisaged that there will be a largerrole for GPs in shaping local services, as more becomespecialist GPs. The creation of specialist GPs has beensupported by the Royal College of General Practitioners(RCGP), which sees it as a means of promoting portfoliocareers and diversification of GPs while still maintain-ing their generalist expertise and role. The RCGP pre-fers to use the term GPs with a specialist interest(GPwSI). In September 2001, the RCGP launched a

    Child and Adolescent Mental Health Volume 12, No. 4, 2007, pp. 160163 doi: 10.1111/j.1475-3588.2006.00422.x

    2006 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

  • paper entitled, Implementing a scheme for GeneralPractitioners with special clinical interests, and thisenvisaged three broad clinical roles for the GPwSI(RCGP, 2001):

    To lead in the development of locality servicesthrough working with generalist and specialistteams;

    To deliver a procedure-based service as part of alocality wide clinical team;

    To deliver an opinion or offer a clinical service on therequest of clinical colleagues.

    One of the biggest advantages of extending the roleand responsibility of GPs is that the GPwSI can pro-vide an intermediate tier of expertise and advice totheir primary care colleagues, and alternative avenuesfor referral and access to specialist investigations.Working as a GPwSI should increase job satisfaction,improve retention and delay burnout for GPs.Increasing the numbers and range of clinicians ableto provide specialist care should reduce waiting timesand improve access for patients. GPs working inspecialist areas bring their unique and in-depthknowledge of primary care to the respective specialistclinical area, are able to work across physical, psy-chological and social paradigms, and have the abilityto provide effective multidisciplinary working andservice delivery for patients suffering from chronicrelapsing conditions (Gerada, Wright, & Keen, 2002).The development of the GPwSI role will also bring awider range of outpatient services into more con-venient and user-friendly community settings (DOH,2003b).

    Creating and consolidating the role of a GPwSI in anyparticular clinical area will require a clarification of thecore skills, competencies, and service level agreementsof that role. There are two important principles under-pinning the development of the GPwSI role:

    Consultants and other secondary care staff will bepivotal as they will need to provide ongoing supportand training to the GPwSIs themselves (DOH,2003b);

    Training and accreditation criteria need to be de-fined alongside ways of proving quality assuranceand continuing professional development.

    Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), with the help of acute andsecondary care practitioners, are ultimately responsiblefor ensuring that GPwSIs have the appropriate skillsand knowledge to deliver services to the higheststandards (DOH, 2003b). Training programmes havealready been developed in the areas of substance mis-use, ear, nose and throat (Gerada et al., 2002) andrespiratory medicine (Gruffydd-Jones, 2003). TheDepartment of Health (2003b) issued general guidanceon the subject of Practitioners with special interests aswell as specific recommendations for GPwSIs in 15clinical speciality areas. The guidelines for theappointment of General Practitioners with SpecialInterests: Mental Health states that:

    It is recommended that any PCT establishing a GPwSIservice for child or adolescent mental health would needto ensure that the GP possesses specific and separate

    evidence of having received Child and AdolescentMental Health Services Training and having acquiredcompetencies relating to CAMH. (DOH, 2003a, p.1)

    An information sheet on GPwSIs was also publishedin March 2004 by the RCGP which included guidelinesand concerns about this model of practice. One of theconclusions was the need for the accreditation fromPrimary Care Organisations of GPwSI services, to en-sure consistency of standards and patient safety(RCGP, 2004).

    The development of the GPwSI ADHD model

    A GPwSI ADHD model has been developed by theauthors. AK (a GP and the medical director of the Dys-covery Centre in Newport) worked in the ADHD medi-cation monitoring clinic in Swansea on a once a monthbasis for a year, undertaking a GPwSI role under themanagement and guidance of GS (a Consultant Childand Adolescent Psychiatrist). It was thought that thejoint expertise and understanding of both hospital,educational and GP perspectives would enable theGPwSI ADHD model to develop and offered a uniqueopportunity to do so.

    Alongside AKs clinical activity, both she and GSdeveloped the training materials described below. AKsunique position in the ADHD clinic allowed her toreflect upon her own information, training and sup-port needs as she progressed with this new role. Thisperspective was invaluable in trying to ascertain theneeds in these areas of other colleagues who might beinterested in taking on a similar role as a GPwSIADHD. The proposed GPwSI ADHD model entaileddeveloping:

    A clinical model to train up GPwSIs and ensure theircompetency to run ADHD medication monitoringclinics;

    Provision of suitable training materials/informationon ADHD for GPwSIs that were to be easily andfreely accessible;

    Consideration of a more formal qualification forGPwSIs in ADHD assessment and management.

    A clinical model to train up GPwSIs

    The clinical model proposed for training up GPwSIs inthe initial phases involves the GPwSI running an ADHDmedication monitoring clinic in parallel with a con-sultant child and adolescent psychiatrist. We recom-mend that the clinic starts with a short meetingbetween the GPwSI and the consultant to provide anopportunity for the cases to be discussed in advance.Patients can be seen in parallel at approximately 3045 minute intervals. If the GPwSI requires immediateadvice on a case, the consultant is close on hand to offerthis. At the end of the clinic, a further short meetingbetween the GPwSI and the consultant provides anopportunity for further case discussion and learning totake place. In order to ensure time for the relevantadministration/letter writing to take place during theclinic session, we would advise a maximum of 56patients to be booked in for the GPwSI. As the GPwSIgains in confidence and competence, the need to run

    ADHD: New Ways of Working 161

  • clinics in parallel with the consultant could be re-viewed. The eventual aim is for the GPwSI to feel able torun ADHD clinics by themselves with support andsupervision provided at a distance, perhaps by tele-phone from the CAMHS consultant.

    Provision of training materials/information onADHD

    The aim here was to develop easily accessible back-ground information about ADHD for the GPwSI, both tounderpin the initial training phase as well to provide anongoing source of training and support materials inGeneral Practice. The materials developed are bothpaper and web-based, with downloadable files andappendices that can be printed out if required. Materi-als include:

    Information about ADHD in general including co-morbidities and differential diagnosis;

    Information on the assessment of ADHD;

    Information on the multi-modal treatment of ADHD;

    Information on initial prescribing and dose titration;

    Development of a protocol for use in ADHD medi-cation monitoring clinics;

    Examples of standard letters that could be used inADHD clinics when writing to parents, GPs andschools;

    Useful contact information for clinicians, parentsand young people including links to other web sites;

    Information sheets for parents and teachers pluslinks to websites offering similar;

    Information about the educational system, inclu-ding the special educational needs code of practice,SENDA, and related statutory legislation.

    These information/training materials were developedafter a thorough evaluation of the available literature onassessment, management and medical follow-up ofchildren with ADHD. The finalised version of the infor-mation has been available via The ADHD Trainingand Support for Clinicians website ( since April 2005.

    Consideration of a formal qualification inADHD management

    It is envisaged that the information available via thewebsite could form the foundation training material forthe GPwSI ADHD. It could also be developed to beincorporated into a personal and professional develop-ment portfolio for GPs. The University of Wales, New-port, has validated the training as a post graduatecertificate in ADHD and related developmental dis-orders module worth 30 credits towards a Mastersdegree. It is proposed that the course will be delivered ina blended format i.e. face-to-face meetings, onlinelearning via a website, CDROM, e-mail support andwould require health professionals to gain experience ina clinic setting in line with the model proposed by theRCGP for GPs with a special interest.


    The authors have developed what they hope is apotentially sustainable model to encourage GPs to workwith children and adolescents with ADHD in the com-munity. The model allows GPs who may want to developa new portfolio practice the opportunity to undertake adefined range of tasks in an area that is thought to lenditself to sessional working. A clear training model hasbeen developed and a means of accreditation proposed.The web-based information/training materials allow forboth a cost effective and updatable means of sharingexperiences and materials.


    Gill Salmon and Amanda Kirby received a grant fromNational Assembly of Wales to develop New ways ofworking in CAMHS as described in this paper.


    American Academy of Pediatrics (2001). Clinical practice guide-line: Treatment of the school-aged child with attention-deficithyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 108, 10331044.

    Ball, C. (2001). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and theuse of methylphenidate: A survey of the views of generalpractitioners. Psychiatric Bulletin, 25, 301304.

    Barkley, R.A. (1996). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.In E.J. Mash & R.A. Barkley (Eds.), Child psychopathology.pp. 4558. New York: Guilford Press.

    Department of Health (2000). The NHS plan. London: HMSO.Department of Health (2003a). Guidelines for the appointment

    of General Practitioners with special interests in the deliveryof clinical services: Mental health. London: Department ofHealth Publications.

    Department of Health (2003b). Practitioners with special inter-ests: Bringing services closer to patients. London: Depart-ment of Health Publications.

    Gerada, C., Wright, N., & Keen, J. (2002). The generalpractitioner with special interest: New opportunities or theen...


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