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GPs could see legal aid ‘embedded’ in practices under new Government scheme

Patients could access legal advice within GP surgeries in the future, under Government reforms to legal aid.

The Government’s new strategy for legal aid, published last week, said providing the advice at the same site as other services ‘can avoid barriers to support that may arise from multiple referrals between providers’.

It has been put together following a review of legal aid, which suggested ’embedding’ legal advice into other services, such as GP practices.

The new Legal Support Action Plan strategy, drawn up by the Ministry of Justice, said: ‘Co-located legal support services may help people with multiple, linked, or difficult to diagnose legal problems, and can avoid barriers to support that may arise from multiple referrals between providers.

‘Alongside our work to improve signposting and co-ordination of legal support online and by telephone, we want to assess and collect evidence as to whether the co-location of support services offers cost effective solutions to people’s problems.

‘We have heard concerns about people not knowing necessarily where to seek support, and we think there could be benefits to people from better co-ordination of face-to-face support services.’

The plan includes the example of a legal advice clinic in London that has been set up within a health centre, alongside a GP practice.

The wide-ranging reforms come as a result of a year-long review of changes made by the Coalition government’s 2013 reforms of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

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The review found the Government should look at ’embedding’ legal advice in other services and also consider GPs prescribing advice.

The review said: ‘Stakeholders suggested Government should consider embedding legal advice in other services; “place based legal services”, noting that “one stop shops” can be very effective, user-friendly, and would support those with clustered problems.

‘The Low Commission research was noted which articulated “advice on prescription”, the idea of GPs prescribing advice as well as medicine.’

Case study: Integrated face-to-face advice in Newham

The UCL integrated Legal Advice Clinic (iLAC) launched in January 2016 at the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health and Wellbeing Centre in Newham.

It provides advice, casework and representation across a range of legal issues, with specialisms in welfare benefits, housing, community care and education law.

The clinic receives referrals from GPs in the Liberty Bridge Road General Practice, as well as drop-ins from patients attending other clinics at the health centre, other GP practices and the wider local community.

The UCL iLAC is staffed by UCL law students working under the supervision of experienced, qualified lawyers and advisers. Since its launch it has achieved many positive outcomes for members of the local community.

Research is being undertaken at the UCL iLAC, investigating the health impact of legal assistance and the role and value of partnership between health and legal services.

Source:  Ministry of Justice