Hackney, London GP Dr Patrick Hutt, a member of the RCGP’s health inequalities group warned that some healthcare professionals in deprived areas are struggling to ‘keep their heads above water’ because of overstretched resources.
Changes to the benefits system have led to a rise in the number of patients ‘in a state of some distress’, in particular those with mental health problems, asking GPs for help with filling out benefit forms or for coping with stress issues, he told a Westminster Health Forum event on in central London. ‘We need to be mindful of the patients’ lives that are being affected,’ he said.
Speaking at the conference, which focused on health inequalities, Dr Hutt said: ‘We are very concerned, especially those working in areas of deprivation, about the impact that the austerity state may have on the most vulnerable in society.’
Dr Hutt also called for GPs to use 'social prescribing' more in a bid to drive down health inequalities. ‘Despite GPs writing prescriptions for antibiotics etc, we should be helping to link with other organisations, whether it is voluntary organisations or the third sector,’ he said.
‘When I was working in Somers Town (central London) which has a large Bengali population, it took me a year and a half to find out that there was a women’s basketball group for Bengali women on a Monday night. If I had known that earlier I could have been signposting a number of patients in that direction.’
Professor Sir Michael Marmot whose 2010 review Fair Society, Healthy Lives called for primary care to act as a ‘focus hub’ within communities, told the conference that child poverty was on the rise. He also said the high level of young people not in education, employment, training (NEETs) was a ‘health emergency’.
He warned that child poverty was rising irrespective of the government's austerity drive. But he added: 'With the coalition’s reforms child poverty will increase more sharply. Child poverty will get worse. That problem will not be solved by changing the definition of child poverty.
'There is a consultation out to change the definition of child poverty, well that will be great, it won’t look so bad on the graphs but it wont do anything for children. Child poverty is a driver of the key factors that make a difference to child development. It is very hard to get good input into children when they are living in poverty.
‘We have to be advocates for a different set of policies that will actually improve the lives of people.’