GPs warn benefit rules put patients at risk and drive up workload

GPs have called for urgent changes to the benefits system, warning current rules are damaging patients' health and burdening overworked practices in deprived areas.

Paperwork: benefits rules drive up work for GPs in deprived areas
Paperwork: benefits rules drive up work for GPs in deprived areas

Benefit reforms introduced by the coalition government are punitive, ‘damaging to vulnerable people’s health and in need of significant change’, a report based on the experiences of 100 GPs working in the most deprived areas in Scotland has warned.

The introduction of the bedroom tax and changes to the employment and support allowance ‘will damage poor communities’ and should be ‘rethought as a matter of urgency’ the Deep End Report 21: GP experience of welfare reform in very deprived areas said.

‘Requests for medical information and support fall most heavily on general practices serving very deprived areas, in which the numbers of such requests are concentrated,’ the University of Glasgow report said.

‘This places additional demands on an already overloaded system and compromises the time available for other aspects of medical care.’

GPs working in the poorest communities are ‘inundated’ with requests for medical information from both patients and government departments, it said.

‘The majority of GPs are glad to provide such information when it is requested, but the work is detailed, time-consuming and usually done at the end of a clinical day,’ it added.

‘When salient information is provided, it can be ignored by those with power to make decisions.

‘GPs are keen to ameliorate the damaging effect of welfare reform on their most vulnerable patients but are constrained by lack of time and resource,’ it said.

The report called for the government to make changes to the housing benefit rules especially. On the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax, it said: ‘We are concerned that the burden of debt placed on the poorest in our communities will have a devastating effect, particularly on mental health.’

GP numbers in deprived areas need to increase, a report based on evidence from the same group of practices said last year.

Last year’s report found that in Scotland’s most deprived areas, where healthcare needs are greatest, GP numbers per head of population are no higher than in the wealthiest parts of Scotland.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: ‘Contrary to what this limited report is saying, our welfare reforms are actually designed to improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities.

‘The universal credit will simplify the complex myriad of benefits, making 3m people better off - the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale - and lifting 250,000 children out of poverty.

‘We absolutely agree that the work capability assessment - that was introduced in 2007 - wasn't working as well as it should, which is why we put in place a series of rolling reviews and have made significant improvements to the process since then.

‘But we still think it's better to assess what work people can do, with the right support, rather than abandon them on long-term sickness benefits as often happened in the past.’

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