Why we want to #StopTheCharge
Shouldn’t banks be paying for the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form?
This week we launched our Stop The Charge campaign, aiming to protect people with mental health problems from being charged for medical evidence they need to get their debts reduced or put on hold. We’ve had a great response so far.
We know two-thirds of GPs don’t charge for these doctor’s notes, which are only needed by people in the teeth of a financial crisis. Many have written to support our campaign. But others – including the British Medical Association – have suggested it’s creditors who should foot the bill for filling in these forms. After all, the BMA argue, it’s the creditors who’ve asked for the evidence. At Money and Mental Health, we disagree, and not just because there are other forms – like fit for work notes – that GPs do fill in without charge.
When someone in debt crisis needs a mental health evidence form, they need it urgently; they may not have cash to last the week, let alone up to £150 to spare for their family doctor. Knowing that a creditor might reimburse you a week or two later doesn’t stop people having cash flow problems that could push them into destitution if forced to pay their GP. In our research, the majority of those who’d been charged had incomes of less than £300 a week – and 40% were surviving on less than £200 a week. Some have gone without fresh food to pay the charge, or turned off the heating.
How many people can find £100 at short notice?
Perhaps some might have savings, or be able to borrow from a friend. But we know from recent research that more than 16m people don’t have even £100 in reserve. Let’s remember that every single person asking for this form to be filled out is in debt crisis of some form – so the chances of them having savings is incredibly low. I can’t imagine many GPs want their patients trekking down to a payday lender to get the cash to pay their fees – and these patients may be in such financial difficulty they can’t even access high-cost credit, even if they wanted to.
So, are we asking GPs to work for free?
I absolutely understand that GPs are overworked, frustrated and tired of filling in forms for other people’s use. Some GPs ask us: why should I do this extra work for free?
The answer is that, in this case, it isn’t “extra work” on top of protecting the health of your patients, this is core business. Resolving your patient’s debts could increase fourfold the chances of them recovering from their depression within eighteen months. If there was a pill you could prescribe that had such a profound effect on recovery rates, there isn’t a GP in the land who wouldn’t prescribe it.
If we’ve made a mistake, it’s in allowing the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form to be seen as just a piece of paperwork. It isn’t. It’s a valuable medical tool that empowers GPs to take away the financial stress that is holding back the recovery of their patient. Filling out this form could lead to the write-off of thousands of pounds worth of debt; it could stop the bailiffs from entering someone’s home and taking away their possessions; it could halt interest payments; it could stop the endless phone calls that worsen anxiety.
In an ideal world, the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form wouldn’t just be filled out at the request of a creditor, once someone’s already had the courage to ask for help. It would be filled out by the GP proactively – they’d ask people with mental health problems if they had financial difficulties, and offer help, knowing that debt resolution can speed up recovery and be a cost-effective supplement to treatment.
The creditor sector has offered medical professionals a powerful tool to cut their patients’ debts. Is there anything else you can do in a ten-minute appointment that could quadruple the chances of a patient’s recovery from depression? GPs should be queueing up to use this form, not quibbling over who pays.