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A social work attachment scheme to several general practitioners was established. Data from the first 300 referrals to the scheme were compared with data from a previous study of referrals to the `intake' teams of the social services department of the same London borough. In addition, data about the activities of the social workers in the `attachment' were collected, and the work was found to be predominantly short-term.
The populations referred to social workers in both settings were found to be similar in age and sex. Although general practitioners in the area referred only a few clients to social services departments, the clients in both groups were generally in poor health.
The psychiatric morbidity of those referred to the attached social workers was significantly higher, however, than those referred to the intake team (p < 0·01), and their problems were also more likely to need psychological help rather than practical measures. These differences were considered to be due mostly to the different types of referral agencies operating in the two settings and to their perceptions of the social worker's role.
The findings support the argument for closer liaison between medical and social services in the community: the attachment of social workers to general practices proved to be particularly valuable in the management and treatment of patients with emotional and mental illness.