In a parliamentary question the president of Labour’s campaign for mental health, Luciana Berger MP, asked ministers if they would limit the fees GPs can charge patients for signing a debt and mental health evidence form.
But the GPC said it was concerned the requirement for a doctor’s letter was an unnecessary barrier used to prevent patients accessing support they need. GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said patients should be believed when they report on their own health conditions.
Ms Berger, a former shadow health minister, raised the issue following the launch of a campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute calling on the government to drop GP charges for signing a debt and mental health evidence form.
The form was introduced by advice organisations and credit firms to enable people with mental health conditions to request easier repayment terms or reduced charges on debt.
The campaign, which is backed by Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness, said that GP fees were forcing patients to go without essentials or further into debt.
Research by the campaign found that a third of patients using the form were charged by their GP despite being in serious financial difficulty.
In an open letter to ministers the campaign said it recognised GPs were under pressure. ‘But this form isn’t like holiday vaccinations or insurance claims. It’s only used by desperate people who are struggling with both a debt crisis and a mental health problem. Charging a fee in this situation risks making mental health problems worse.’
A spokeswoman for Ms Berger said the MP was not seeking to blame GPs, but she believes the government should look at the problem.
In response to Ms Berger, primary care minister David Mowat said services provided by GPs outside the contract were regarded as ‘private matters between the patient and the GP’.
‘In such cases, decisions on whether to charge a fee and the level of the fee charged are at the GP’s discretion.’
Dr Vautrey said: ‘GPs want their patients to be able to access the benefits that they are entitled to and all too often see the serious impact on their patients' mental and physical health problems that debt and difficulties with benefit agencies can have.
‘We also have concerns that bodies are using the request to get a letter from their GP as way of denying patients what they are entitled to, introducing unnecessary barriers and bureaucracy and disempowering patients. It's time such bodies believed patients themselves and did not expect them to get their GP to say what they themselves have already reported.’
Photo: Ian Bottle