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Cutbacks in social, financial and legal advice is making our patients ill, GPs warn

GPs are seeing a rising number of patients with concerns about benefits, debt and housing problems, a legal charity has warned.

Out of over 1,000 GPs surveyed by the Legal Action Goup, two thirds said that in the last year the number of patients whose health would have benefitted from legal, financial or other specialist advice on social issues has increased.

Over half of GPs also reported that patients were increasingly discussing housing difficulties during consultations, with the Legal Action Group pointing to Government cuts to social and welfare legal advisory services as a possible reason behind the rise.

According to the charity, which promotes access to justice for disadvantaged people, almost half of GPs said that unless patients get access to this type of advice they will experience negative effects on their health such as stress, anxiety or hospitalisation ‘to a great extent’.

In a report on the findings, the charity said: ‘We initiated the research because we had some limited anecdotal evidence that GPs had noticed an increase in patients who might benefit from legal or specialist advice on social and welfare law problems. We had no idea before obtaining the results just how extensively this opinion was held. GPs also clearly believe that not obtaining advice on social welfare law problems can have a negative effect on a person’s health, with 48% believing this is true to a great extent.’

It comes as GPs working in deprived areas have warned that they are especially badly affected by ongoing cuts to MPIG funding putting patients at risk of also losing healthcare access.