GP charges for mental health forms to stop
Author: Adrian O'Dowd
GPs are to stop charging patients for the form that people with mental health problems need to get debt support, it has been announced today.
An agreement has been reached between the British Medical Association (BMA) and charity the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to end these patient charges.
As part of the new GP Contract recently agreed with NHS England, GPs in England will stop charging for completing the Debt and Mental Health Evidence form – paperwork that people with mental health and debt problems can be asked to provide to creditors and debt collectors to receive additional support.
The agreement follows a two-year campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a charity set up in 2016 that conducts research and develops policies for essential services firms, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.
The Institute’s 'Stop the Charge' campaign followed research by the charity that showed around a third of people with mental health problems who asked a GP to complete the form were charged for it, and charges usually amounted to £30-£50, but some people were asked to pay more – in a few cases over £100.
The BMA’s commitment will be enacted when an agreed new shortened and simplified version of the form is introduced, to make it easier and quicker for GPs to complete.
In addition, UK Finance and the Credit Services Association – the membership bodies for UK banks and debt collectors respectively – have also agreed to advise firms to only request the form as a last resort.
The BMA said it would continue to work with creditors and charities to support people to provide evidence of their mental health problems from their own medical records, which will be available online from April.
In January 2017, the government promised to address what it called the “unfair practice” of people with mental health problems being charged for this form, and launched a formal review.
Following this, government and organisations from across the health, debt and financial sectors set up a working group to make progress on reducing both the length of the form and the demand for GPs to complete it.
Cross sector agreement has now been reached to introduce a new shortened form to make this process easier – with organisations including the Money Advice Liaison Group (which oversees the form), the BMA, Royal College of Psychiatrists, debt advice charities, UK Finance and the Credit Services Association all signalling their support.
Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “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. Today’s announcement puts us in touching distance of ending this injustice.
“Now the agreement is there, we just need the government to lead the coordination of all the groups involved to produce the new paper work.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA GP Committee in England said: “We have a shared concern about the impact that financial debt has on the mental health of many people.
“To that end, we want a solution that, where possible, empowers patients to provide their own evidence of their condition. 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.”