Background. General practitioners (GPs) can be provided with effective training in the skills to manage depression. However, it remains uncertain whether such training achieves health gain for their patients.
Method. The study aimed to measure the health gain from training GPs in skills for the assessment and management of depression. The study design was a cluster randomized controlled trial. GP participants were assessed for recognition of psychological disorders, attitudes to depression, prescribing patterns and experience of psychiatry and communication skills training. They were then randomized to receive training at baseline or the end of the study. Patients selected by GPs were assessed at baseline, 3 and 12 months. The primary outcome was depression status, measured by HAM-D. Secondary outcomes were psychiatric symptoms (GHQ-12) quality of life (SF-36), satisfaction with consultations, and health service use and costs.
Results. Thirty-eight GPs were recruited and 36 (95%) completed the study. They selected 318 patients, of whom 189 (59%) were successfully recruited. At 3 months there were no significant differences between intervention and control patients on HAM-D, GHQ-12 or SF-36. At 12 months there was a positive training effect in two domains of the SF-36, but no differences in HAM-D, GHQ-12 or health care costs. Patients reported trained GPs as somewhat better at listening and understanding but not in the other aspects of satisfaction.
Conclusions. Although training programmes may improve GPs' skills in managing depression, this does not appear to translate into health gain for depressed patients or the health service.