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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.”

Quids in! Says: There are seven signs that show we’re on top of our money, or getting there

1 ASKING FOR HELP: If things are getting on top of you, STOP! Take a breath and get real. It’s okay to ask for help. Or get online and search for advice. It’s there on tap.

2 GET THE KNOWLEDGE: Find out what help is on offer and get up to speed on what you can do for yourself. Do a little local research to see which free-to-use charities are around or look up the national advice lines.

3 MOTIVATION: Five frogs are sitting on a log when one decides to jump. How many remain? Well, five if that one does nothing about it. Show you mean business by taking that first step to sort things out.

4 GOALS: Be clear what financial security feels like. Maybe it’s having £500 to fall back on, or earning £50 a week more, or getting clear of debt… or maybe a bit of each. Think how you’ll feel, taking special note of feeling less stressed and generally more able to keep healthy.

5 SAY IT OUT LOUD: Write down your goals, post them on Facebook and tell people you trust what you aim to achieve and make it a matter of pride. Back them up with a few pointers for how you’ll get there and keep a note of your progress.

6 START WITH THE FUN STUFF: Even if it’s just spending you enjoy, chances are new stuff is even better if you bagged a bargain. Like watching things grow? Save coins in a jar or collect bonuses in a savings club (see page 6). Enjoy each step towards achieving your goals.

7 EXPECT THE EXPECTED: Now it’s time to face up to what is expected of you, keeping to agreements you make with people you owe money to or with an employer offering more work. Strike a deal with yourself or your family and be prepared to keep to it.

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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