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GPs confirm health impact of the recession

Recession leads to rise in abortions, anxiety and alcohol abuse, say doctors

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The UK’s economic recession has had a noteable negative impact on peoples’ health, according to a survey of 300 GPs in a new report.

The survey found that more than three quarters (76%) of GPs questioned said they believed the economic downturn was making people in the UK unhealthier.

It has also led to GPs working longer hours and struggling to refer patients to the right service.

The Austerity Britain Report was published by healthcare market research specialist Insight Research Group based on online survey of 300 GPs across the UK on how Britain’s health has been affected by the economy since 2008 and 40 in-depth qualitative interviews.

Doctors believed the economically tough times had affected all social groups but particularly the middle class, which has lead to an increase in abortions, anxiety and alcohol abuse, as well as a rise in irritable bowel syndrome especially in women.

Mental health has been affected as 77% of the GPs surveyed felt there had been an increase in new cases of mental health disorders linked to the stresses of the economic climate.

Of the 231 GPs who mentioned mental health, more than half (54%) believed the biggest increase had been in clinically definable anxiety (including OCD, anxiety and panic disorders), particularly amongst men.

More than a third (34%) of the GPs believed there was an increase in patients delaying starting a family until their financial security improved, with nearly a fifth (17%) believing patients specifically requested terminations due to financial concerns.

Almost two thirds (64%) of the GPs surveyed felt there had been an increase in patients drinking more alcohol, and almost half (46%) believed they had seen an increase in serious alcohol abuse.

On the issue of smoking, 38% believed that more of their smoking-prone patients were giving up or cutting down to save money.

GPs were asked about the impact of the recession on themselves and of the 231 who believed there to be an increase in mental health disorders, almost all of them (96%) said these patients required longer appointment times, and 60% of these GPs also reported working longer hours as a result of dealing with this increased case load.

Nearly the same (59%) said they struggled to refer patients with mental health disorders into the services best placed to support them, with some saying it could take up to a year before patients were seen by a psychologist.

Richard Kunzmann, research manager at Insight Research Group, who led the research, said: “The results are particularly insightful and show the extent to which the economy is not only affecting the average person on the street but also the GPs that treat them.

“The GPs we surveyed felt that worries over financial security coupled with many people working longer hours have raised our stress levels. This has not only led to an increase in various mental health disorders but has also influenced other aspects of our life and wellbeing – from family planning through to levels of exercise.”

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