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Practices co-locating with legal advice services can cut ‘unnecessary consultations by 25%’

GP practices offering financial or legal advice services on their premises could greatly reduce the estimated 15% of GP consultation time which is spent on benefits issues, and reduce appointments and prescribing, a new report has claimed.

The evidence review by the Low Commission – led by Lord Low, and set up by a group of welfare charities – has found a number of potential benefits to citizens advice bureaus being located alongside GP practices, as well as support from GPs who believe more services are needed to treat the social causes of ill health.

However, the review highlighted there is little high quality evidence to support the health improvement, or cost-reducing benefits of such social prescribing schemes yet.

The report notes broad consensus amongst GPs that their patients would benefit from legal or specialist advice on benefits and housing.

It cites a survey of 1,000 GPs in October 2014 that found 88% believed difficulty accessing advice services would have a negative impact on their health, with 48% thinking it would greatly affect their health.

The think-tank also highlights a business case compiled by the London Health Inequalities Network in 2013, which found that practices providing advice could save GPs time.

The Low Commission report states: ‘one  study  estimated  that  15%  of  GPs’  consultation  involved  welfare  rights  issues. [Providing benefits advice] resulted in  reduced  costs  associated  with  GP  drug  prescriptions  and  reducing the  number  of  patient  visits  to  their  GP  on  an  already  stretched  service.’

The report concludes: ‘The  pressures  on  the  NHS  are  increasing,  with  demand  growing  rapidly  as  the  population  ages,  and  long-­term conditions  as  well  as  widening  health  inequalities  becoming  more  common.  Welfare  advice  interventions  can  deliver  a range  of  health­‐related  benefits,  such  as lower  anxiety,  better  general  health and more  stable  relationships  and  housing.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has spoken out in support of GPs turning to social prescribing solutions as part of his ‘new deal’ speech.

He also told MPs last year they would not stand in the way of further initiatives. However, this came just weeks after GPs warned that cutbacks to social and legal aid support was making patients sicker.