GPs to stop charging patients for debt and mental health forms

The BMA has pledged that GP practices in England will stop charging patients for completing debt and mental health evidence forms as part of an agreement under the new five-year contract.

(Photo: iStock.com/OcusFocus)
(Photo: iStock.com/OcusFocus)

The BMA has agreed that that the change will come into effect when a new shortened version of the form, which will be easier for GPs to complete, is introduced. It is also exploring whether information on a patient's mental health could be supplied to lenders by other health and social care professionals or support workers.

The debt and mental health evidence 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.

When the new system is up and running, if there are situations where a more complex report is required the lender involved should ask the GP to complete form and the lender, rather than the patient, should ‘pay an appropriate fee’, the BMA said.

As part of the new agreement the membership bodies for banks and debt collectors, UK Finance and the Credit Services Association, have said they will only request the information from GPs as a last resort.

The BMA said it was now up to the government to put the new form in place and provide guidance to creditors, debt advisers and people with mental health problems about how to use it.

Mental health and debt

There are versions of the form in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not covered by this agreement, so practices in those countries will still be able to charge patients. However, the BMA said that it hoped that when the new system is established in England it will be reviewed and considered in the other three nations.

Completing forms and reports such as the debt and mental health evidence form falls outside of the GP contract and other NHS work that practices are remunerated for. As such, it counts as private work and practices are able to charge an appropriate fee based on the work involved. However, not all practices charge for completing this form.

The new agreement comes in response to Money and Mental Health’s Stop the Charge campaign, which launched over two years ago. Research by the organisation found that around one in three people with mental health problems who asked a GP to complete the debt and mental health form were charged for it.

The charity said that the charge was preventing some people from getting help to resolve their debts, while others were going without food or heating to pay for the charge.

Self-certified declaration

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We want to maximise the use of self-certified declaration but where that’s not possible, we will explore how this can be done by an appropriate health and social care professional or support worker known to the patient. We want to reduce, as far as possible, the need for GP practice involvement. When involvement is necessary, using a newly designed much simplified form, practices will not charge patients to complete it.

‘There may be times when a more complex health report is required by a bank or other lender, and in those rare circumstances, those reports need to be sought directly from the practice by a lender and the lender would pay an appropriate fee, not the patient.’

Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: 'We’re over the moon that the BMA has finally agreed to stop people with mental health and debt problems being charged for the paperwork they need to get help. These charges can play havoc with people’s financial and mental wellbeing, often when they are at their lowest ebb – leaving many avoiding asking for the help they desperately need.

'Now the agreement is there, we just need the government to lead the coordination of all the groups involved to produce the new paperwork. Then we will be able to stop these charges once and for all.'

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