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Access to general practice for preventive health care for people who experience severe mental illness in Sydney, Australia: a qualitative study.

BACKGROUND: People with lived experience of severe mental illness (PWLE) live around 20years less than the general population. Most deaths are due to preventable health conditions. Improved access to high-quality preventive health care could help reduce this health inequity. This study aimed to answer the question: What helps PWLE access preventive care from their GP to prevent long-term physical conditions?

METHODS: Qualitative interviews (n=10) and a focus group (n=10 participants) were conducted with PWLE who accessed a community mental health service and their carers (n=5). An asset-based framework was used to explore what helps participants access and engage with a GP. A conceptual framework of access to care guided data collection and analysis. Member checking was conducted with PWLE, service providers and other stakeholders. A lived experience researcher was involved in all stages of the study.

RESULTS: PWLE and their carers identified multiple challenges to accessing high-quality preventive care, including the impacts of their mental illness, cognitive capacity, experiences of discrimination and low income. Some GPs facilitated access and communication. Key facilitators to access were support people and affordable preventive care.

CONCLUSION: GPs can play an important role in facilitating access and communication with PWLE but need support to do so, particularly in the context of current demands in the Australian health system. Support workers, carers and mental health services are key assets in supporting PWLE and facilitating communication between PWLE and GPs. GP capacity building and system changes are needed to strengthen primary care's responsiveness to PWLE and ability to engage in collaborative/shared care.

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