Police and crime commissioners have called on the health secretary to stop charging domestic abuse victims for a medical letter from their GP that is needed to access legal aid.
The letter, which was signed by 16 police and crime commissioners, said the practice of charging victims for a document that proves they were abused is ‘callous, insensitive and unjust’.
Recent legislation changes mean domestic abuse victims now have to apply for legal aid but to qualify, they must provide evidence to prove that they have been abused. One accepted form of evidence is a GP letter.
While not all GPs are requesting a fee for the letter, some are charging up to £175, they say.
The letter to Jeremy Hunt says: ‘Of course not all GPs are charging such fees, but if we are to ensure that victims receive a consistent, equitable, and fair service across the UK, this service needs to be provided by the NHS, and the fees abolished.
‘GPs are under a terrible strain at the moment, and complex organisational structures and commissioning processes make resolutions to issues such as this difficult. But no matter what the difficulties are, it’s clear that some victims are receiving a service that falls well short of what’s expected.’
The concerns were first raised by deputy Labour leader Tom Watson’s ‘scrap the fee’ campaign following a visit to a Wythenshawe Safe Spots, a support centre for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Mr Watson said he was ‘delighted’ that the campaign was backed by the police and crime commissioners and added that he has requested an urgent meeting with ministers to end the practice.
But Dr Peter Holden, chair of the BMA’s professional fees committee, said supplying such letters ‘is not an NHS service’.
He said: ‘What would a solicitor be charging for a report. It’s not an NHS service and people need to understand that whatever a GP charges is not what goes into his back pocket.
‘There are often other routes that this information can be gained. For example, they may have gone to accident and emergency, they may have been to social services, so all the GP is doing is retailing what he has on his records and that’s not a good use of GP time when the information the GP holds will be second hand anyway.’
He added that GPs are not able to offer medical opinion on domestic abuse cases, ‘which is of course what the police are chasing, and GPs do not supply opinions. They’re not forensically trained.’