The 'unfair' practice of NHS doctors charging people with mental health problems up to £150 to fill in a crucial debt help form is to be reviewed, the Prime Minster has announced.
It follows the 'stop the charge' campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which teamed up with 14 other charities to demand GPs stop compounding debt problems by charging for the 'debt and mental health evidence form'. The form is needed by lenders before they can offer those with mental health problems debt help.
In a major speech unveiling a wide-ranging overhaul of mental health care, Theresa May announced that these GP charges – typically £20 to £50, but in some cases as much as £150 – will be reviewed.
She said: "Despite known links between debt and mental health, currently hundreds of mental health patients are charged by their GP for a form to prove they have mental health issues. To end this unfair practice the Department of Health will undertake a formal review of the mental health debt form, working with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute."
The institute, a charity set up by MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis last April, has spearheaded the campaign against the GP charges. A number of MPs and leading mental health and advice charities including Mind, Rethink and StepChange have also spoken out against them, while the campaign saw over 2,000 people sign a joint letter to the UK health secretaries.
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'Ending this charge is a sensible decision'
Reacting to today's announcement, Martin said: "After the financial services industry finally got its act together to start treating those with mental health issues more responsibly, it's tragic that the block to getting support has come at the point of seeing a GP.
"This isn't anyone's fault, just the system never caught up, and the people suffering often don't have a voice. I set up this charity to get problems like this sorted, and with the Prime Minister's announcement today, I'm delighted it's already starting to have a big impact.
"Ending this charge is a sensible decision all round – we look forward to working with the Government and others to make it happen. And this is just the start of needed changes. Those with mental health problems are between three and six times more likely to be in problem debt, and resolving these debt problems could make them twice as likely to recover in NHS talking therapies.
"If there was a pill you could take that had such a profound effect, there isn't a GP in the land who wouldn't prescribe it. Joining up mental health treatment with financial support would save the NHS substantial amounts of money."
Some GPs charging as much as £150 to sign evidence forms
Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has shown that mental health problems can make it harder both to earn and to manage money, and that problem debts can make mental health recovery take longer.
Many banks recognise this and are willing to offer extra financial support, freezing interest payments or even writing off some debts when people are struggling. But to access this help, customers are often asked to provide the 'debt and mental health evidence form', signed by a doctor.
An investigation by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that one in three who asked their doctor for the evidence form were charged for it – some paying as much as £150.
GPs are allowed to charge for this work because it's outside the NHS contract, meaning no Government funding is provided to cover it. Though as a result some people are racking up more debt just to pay their GP, or going without the support altogether.