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Scots extend GP debt advice scheme

The Scottish Government has extended a scheme that sees GP practices offering debt advice to patients in low-income areas.

The pilot was launched in September last year in seven GP practices, which were funded to employ so-called link workers to advise patients on non-medical issues such as financial, emotional or environmental problems that are caused by difficulties with housing, debt, social isolation, stress or fuel poverty.

Originally planned to continue until March next year, health secretary Alex Neil said the scheme would now continue to be funded until May 2018.

The programme, which has also enabled GPs to refer patients to external debt management services, will be evaluated by comparing health outcomes with practices not participating in the scheme. If successful, it may be rolled out across the country.

Mr Neil said the link worker programme is ‘on the front line of the battle against health inequalities’.

He said: ‘This is about giving people an extra helping hand to address the problems that are making them feel unwell. We know that people who are living in deprived and challenging circumstances are more likely to experience mental health problems, and more likely to use acute and emergency hospital services. By helping them to deal with some of the problems they’re facing, the link workers can give them the chance to live happier lives, with less chance of illness further down the road.

‘I’m delighted to be able to announce extra funding for the programme, that will take it up to 2018. A full evaluation will be carried out, and we will then decide whether or not to extend it to GP practices across the country.’

Scottish GPC deputy chair Dr Andrew Buist said: ‘There are many areas that would benefit from the GP link worker programme and I hope that, if the pilot scheme is successful, the Scottish Government will consider extending it to all GP practices across Scotland.’

Last month, Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie praised a similar scheme set up in Derbyshire in England, where 98 practices are offering weekly clinics run by the Citizens Advice Bureau to help resolve stressful issues, such as housing, employment and benefits problems.