The survey of 300 UK GPs by the Insight Research Group found that 76% of GPs believe the economic downturn is making people less healthy.
It revealed that 77% of those surveyed felt there had been an increase in new cases of mental health problems linked to the impact of the recession.
Out of those 231 GPs who thought mental health problems were increasing due to the recession, 60% said they were working longer hours as a result and 59% said they struggled to refer patients.
Responding to the findings, RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada repeated her calls for longer GP consultations and for an investment in more GPs to cope with the increased complexities of patients’ needs.
She said: ‘GPs are a really good barometer of what is going on. What GPs are picking up is that the social determinants of ill health are redundancy and poverty. Poverty causes poor health, and poverty and unemployment are linked to poor health. In a recession health inequalities get worse.
‘It shows the pivotal importance of GPs as being there and free at point of use. We must invest in more GPs and make sure that they have enough time in consultations to talk to their patients. They are heaving under the workloads.’
More than a third of GPs (34%) said they believed there had been an increase in patients putting off starting a family until their financial security improves, with 17% believing patients specifically requested terminations due to financial concerns.
More than 60% of GPs believed there had been an increase in patients drinking more alcohol and 46% said there had seen an increase in serious alcohol abuse. When it came to smoking 38% believed that their patients who smoked were giving up or cutting down to save money.
GPs also reported patients cutting back on exercise with 60% saying that more patients were cancelling sporting activities to save money.