Doctors forced to act as a surrogate social service, says British Medical Journal

The findings are the result of a poll of more than a thousand doctors across the country

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of thousands of victims of government cuts to welfare are becoming ill as a result, with doctors becoming a “surrogate social service,” according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Almost all [94 per cent] GPs have seen their workload rise in the past year, as the effects of welfare cuts have taken hold. People are increasingly turning to them for help in appealing against controversial health assessments which can see benefits cut or stopped.

And more than two thirds [68 per cent] of doctors warn that the health of their patients is suffering as a result of austerity driven benefit reforms.

Most doctors say they are seeing an increase in patients with non-medical problems, such as debt, unemployment and housing issues, and many believe this is affecting the health of their patients, particularly those with mental health problems.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal today, are the result of a poll of more than a thousand doctors across the country.

“Many GPs feel they are now being forced to act as a surrogate social service, with a growing number of patients presenting to them with non-medical problems such as debt, unemployment and cuts to their benefits,” a BMJ spokesperson told The Independent.

“Many told us that financial concerns are contributing to increased cases of stress, anxiety and depression,” they added.

Yet even when doctors provide evidence to Work Capacity Assessments that their patients should remain on benefits due to the state of their health, it is frequently ignored. More than half [52 per cent] of GPs say their advice is “usually” or “often” disregarded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), according to the survey.

And the scale of financial hardship is resulting in many surgeries hosting weekly advice sessions from debt and employment counsellors in a bid to help patients cope.