UK welfare reforms and the growth of food banks are having a negative impact on general practice, politicians have been warned.
Patients in Scotland have been visiting GPs because of the stress of benefit sanctions, a GP told the Scottish welfare reform committee.
Dr John Ip said that some patients were seeking GP appointments solely to get a referral or a voucher for food banks, and GPs were seen as the “first port of call”.
DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) work services director Neil Couling insisted that new benefits sanctions were not fuelling demand for food banks.
Instead, the issue was ‘supply led because we lived in a society with rich and poor people’, and that ‘people will maximise their economic choices’.
But Dr Ip, a member of the BMA Scottish GPs committee, told MSPs: “From GPs’ experience, we’re clear that the sanctions that patients experience during their journey through the DWP is impacting on their mental health and their financial health.
“My experience, and the experience of my colleagues, is that welfare reform and the way it’s been carried out is having a significant impact on GP services.”
He added. ‘Many patients, especially in the most vulnerable groups in our society, in very poor areas, are suffering financial distress and a significant contributor of that is the welfare changes.
Dr Ip said that in some areas of the country, food banks were under pressure and were asking people to get a referral from a health professional — usually a GP — before they could access the service.
He said other areas were more positive and that food banks had proactively engaged with local GPs.
“GPs want to be involved in helping people, and food banks are one way that we can signpost people,” he said.