Doctors to stop charging patients with mental health issues for debt support paperwork

Doctors in England will no longer charge patients with mental health problems for paperwork they need to get debt support.

Money saving expert Martin Lewis, who launched a campaign against the fee, said he was “over the moon” that an agreement had been reached.

The changes were outlined in the new five-year GP contract published by the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS England last month.

The debt and mental health evidence form was not previously covered by the contract, meaning doctors were able to bill patients.

People with mental health and debt problems can be asked to provide the paperwork to creditors and debt collectors to receive additional support.

The GP contract change follows a two-year campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which was founded by Mr Lewis.

“We’re over the moon that the BMA has finally agreed to stop people with mental health and debt problems being charged for the paperwork they need to get help,” Mr Lewis (pictured), chairman of the charity, 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.”

Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute previously found many patients were being charged between £30 and £50 for the form, and in some cases the cost exceeded £100.

The change will come into force in a matter of months, after the Government introduces a new form for GPs which the BMA said should be quicker and easier to fill in.

UK Finance and Credit Services Association, which represent banks and debt collectors, have also agreed to advise companies only to request the forms as a last resort.

Meanwhile, patients will be given support to provide evidence of mental health problems from their own medical records when these are available online later this year, the BMA said.

“We have a momentous agreement from banks, doctors and debt collectors, who are all ready to play their part,” Mr Lewis said.

“Now the agreement is there, we just need the Government to lead the coordination of all the groups involved to produce the new paperwork.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I’ve always said that I want to put right the everyday injustices that those with mental illness encounter.

“That’s why last year I announced that the Government would review the practice of GPs charging patients for forms relating to mental health and debt, which can both worsen mental health problems and cause greater financial difficulties.

“And today I’m pleased that we are banning all charges for obtaining this form, which will help to support many vulnerable people. I’d like to thank the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute for their ‘Stop the Charge’ campaign which has played a vital role in making this happen.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA GP committee in England, said: “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.

“There may be times when a more complex health report is required by a bank or other lender, and in those rare circumstances, those reports need to be sought directly from the practice by a lender and the lender would pay an appropriate fee, not the patient.”

Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health at NHS England, said: “It is great news that the BMA has now publicly thrown its weight behind another important strand of the landmark GP contract, which alongside new measures in the NHS Long Term Plan will improve physical and mental health for patients.

“The links between money, debt and mental ill health are well known and is why this pledge to finally stamp out the practice of charging patients who have turned to GPs for help – often when most in need – is so welcome.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kirsty O’Connor / PA Wire.