Medical physician doctor hands

A Spoonful of Good Advice

One in two Quids in! readers say money worries are affecting their wellbeing. With health services under strain, could prescribing money advice be one way to get to the root cause of problems while also lifting pressure on the NHS?

“I never intended to get into debt. Who does? Life becomes hard to manage when you become caught up in its cycle. It’s been hard to stay on top of the day to day things. Worrying all the time was affecting my sleep. Debt’s the first thing and the last thing you think about in the day. I felt I was running out of options.”

Wendy, who lives in Leeds, was suffering from anxiety and depression. It was affecting her sleep and debt occupied all her thoughts until she turned to her GP.

Switch on the news at the moment and it seems the NHS is buckling under the weight of patients. Whether it’s bodies in hospital corridors or waiting times for a GP appointment, there’s nothing but bad news about the state of the health service.

But what if it wasn’t always healthcare we needed? What if there was somewhere else to go? What if something different could be prescribed to avoid pills or potions altogether?
Wendy’s GP was one of a number who is recognising the benefit of ‘social prescribing’, referring patients to non-medical help and advice. Instead of being given drugs, Wendy was told to contact Connect for Health, a project linking people with health problems to other forms of support.

Scared and ashamed about what people would think, Wendy was relieved to meet Geoff who listened without judgement. “He suggested it would be beneficial to get some support and discuss my depression further with a counsellor. He also offered me options about dealing with my debts and organised an appointment to go to my local debt advice centre. He came along to give me further support.”

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Lewis Kirkbride at Citizens Advice in County Durham works closely with healthcare services and believes GPs are aware of the benefits of social prescribing to them and patients: “Clinicians understand the links between stress and financial problems and physical health, so they’re extremely interested. It’s not just the effects of anxiety – not being able to afford good heating, for example, can increase your risks of stroke, heart attack and breathing problems.”

He adds that the limited time GPs have with patients can mean it’s hard to get down to the money issues at the root of the problem. Better access to advice services, he argues, could reduce the pressure on doctor-patient time, meaning shorter waiting lists. “That’s good news for everyone.”

For Wendy, the support her GP had directed her to lifted a weight off her shoulders. “I’m so glad I made contact with Connect for Health. They listened to me and supported me to get in touch with the right people.

“I feel so much better now. It’s good to know you don’t have to feel alone and ashamed. There is help out there and people who will listen.”

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