Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a formal review into the money that GP practices charge for confirming mental health issues in patients who require help with their financial difficulties.
Mrs May said that she will work with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute ‘with a view to ending the practice’ of GPs charging patients directly if they require information to prove to debt collection agencies they are ill and require additional help.
However, it is not clear whether the review will look at abolishing the charges completely or debt collection agencies paying any charges themselves.
The creditor industry and advice providers like Citizens Advice have agreed a single form – called the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form – which people can ask their doctor or another mental health professional to fill out.
But campaign spearheaded by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – a group set up by Moneysavingexpert.com founder Martin Lewis – claimed that some GPs were charging up to £150 to sign these forms.
Mrs May said today: ‘We will right the everyday injustices that those with mental illness encounter, starting by examining GP forms relating to mental illness and debt. Because those whose illness has resulted in debt or means they are struggling to pay their debt have to prove their mental ill health to debt collectors and pay their GP to fill in a form to do so.
‘Such a process can worsen both mental illness and financial difficulties so we’ll work with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to consult on these forms with a view to ending the practice.’
But GP leaders pointed out that this is not part of GPs’ contractual obligations, and GPs need to be properly resourced to carry out such duties.
Dr Andrew Green, GPC’s prescribing lead, said: ‘We would support the a review of these forms if it results in removing the need for GPs to be involved completely.
‘Given the pressures that we are under, GPs should only be asked for information if there is no other way of that being provided, otherwise our ability to care for those needing medical care is compromised.
‘It is quite appropriate for GPs to charge a reasonable professional fee for tasks that are not connected with health, but it should be the organisation requesting the information that is responsible for the costs involved, not the patient. Many bodies seek to reduce their own costs by regarding GPs as a free resource, this is unacceptable and needs to stop.’
The Prime Minister today announced a number of measures to support mental health patients, including steps to ensure children with mental health conditions are cared for in their area and not moved around the country, as well as an investment in digital mental health therapy.
Other reforms announced by the PM today include:
- Eliminating ‘inappropriate placements to inpatient beds for children and young people by 2021’, to ensure they are cared for in their own area
- A £67.7m investment in digital health services, which would allow ‘people to check their symptoms, be triaged online and receive clinically-assisted therapy over the internet much more quickly and easily, assuming it’s clinically appropriate’
- £15m for community-based care such as community clinics and crisis cafes.
- Support for teachers and school staff to have mental health first aid training, and review of children and young people mental health services led by the CQC and Ofsted
- A partnership with employers to improve mental health in the workplace
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: ‘It’s encouraging to see mental health, particularly that of our children and young patients, being taken seriously by the Prime Minister. A lot needs to be done, and urgently, to make these aspirations a reality and make genuine progress towards parity of esteem between mental and physical health.
‘Whilst initiatives like “crisis cafes” and community clinics, which allow patients to self refer, are certainly an encouraging step in the right direction to achieving this, the essential role of general practice must also be recognised in these plans. GPs and our teams are often the first port of call for patients with mental health problems, and it is vital we have access to the appropriate resources and services in the community.’