Patients receiving financial advice at their GP practice have received around £7,000 extra each in benefits, researchers have found.
The Glasgow Centre for Population Health study found that a half-day-a-week advice worker placed in two GP practices in a deprived area of Glasgow helped 165 patients to collectively receive an extra £850,000 in benefits that they were entitled to.
The programme, which has since been rolled out to nine practices, also helped patients identify and manage £155,766 worth of debt.
The scheme, which forms part of the ‘Deep End’ programme to ease GP workload in areas with high levels of poverty, has helped patients with applications for welfare payments such as carers allowance, disability benefits and child tax credits.
The financial advice was provided by staff working for the Greater Easterhouse Money Advice Project and the evaluation found that while GPs could refer to the project in general, having the advice based in the practice dramatically increased the number of patients GPs forwarded to the service.
In all, between December 2015 and May 2017, 276 patients were referred by the GPs at the two practices in Parkhead, Glasgow.
GPs taking part in the scheme reported that it reduced the amount of time they spent dealing with social issues.
One GP quoted in the report said: ‘The project is taking a huge amount of pressure off me to support people with matters I don’t know much about.’
Another GP who took part added: ‘It is contributing to reduced time spent by GPs on paperwork relating to benefits [and] lets us get on with the job we are trained to do.’
Report author and programme manager Jamie Sinclair, from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, concluded that widening the project further would not necessarily mean extra funding but consideration about how existing services are provided.
Professor Graham Watt, honorary senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow and architect of the Deep End Project, said for GPs it was a relief to have a reliable colleague on hand in the practice to take over patients’ financial issues and that it freed up time to deal with other issues.
He added: ‘It’s not that financial issues dominate GP consultations. Rather, they are the problematic backdrop which makes progress difficult on every other issue.’
Professor Watt said the BMA advises GPs not to give DWP reports as it is not part of the contract but also even if they were paid GPs do not have the time.
‘This scheme solved the problem. The financial advisor had access to the clinical records, with patient consent, but also as a known and trusted colleague within the practice team.
‘He drafted reports for GPs to sign off. If there is a better way of solving this standoff, I have yet to hear of it,’ he said.