Welfare advice saves GP visits and prescribing

Practice workload and prescription volumes can be reduced by providing welfare advice and support to patients, a UK study has shown.

Dr Hayden: unless we address the psychological needs of these patients, the NHS will face huge costs
Dr Hayden: unless we address the psychological needs of these patients, the NHS will face huge costs

A team at NHS Sefton, Merseyside, looked at the impact of a Citizens Advice Bureau health outreach service on nine practices.

Among patients using the services, the researchers found a 12.7% drop in all appointments and a 13% drop in GP appointments. There was also a 22% reduction in prescriptions for antidepressants and a 58% reduction in prescriptions for hypnotics and anxiolytics.

The researchers said it would be important to have data on these services as GPs take on commissioning roles. ‘There is evidence of the bene­fits to patients of welfare rights advisory services from the literature, but our preliminary study now also suggests there may be some reduction in NHS utilisation,’ they said.

Lancashire GP Dr David Wrigley has had a Citizens Advice Bureau service seeing patients in his practice for several years.

‘Anyone can refer patients, or patients can self-refer. I have found it immensely valuable in supporting patients’ non-medical needs,’ he said.

‘Often, social problems affect a patient’s health, so it is a win-win situation. Patient feedback has been very positive and we have some great stories of turning patients’ lives around owing to this advice service.’

Dorset GP Dr Anne Hayden has saved more than £80,000 in NHS costs for just six patients by using a befriending scheme to boost emotional wellbeing. She told GP that for many patients, ‘medical needs are a small part of the equation’.

‘There is so much psychological need that must be addressed or money will haemorrhage,’ she said. ‘These patients cost the NHS a lot of money and unless we address these psychological needs, the NHS will face huge financial costs.’

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