In recent NHS surveys General Practitioners (GP) reported increased demands on their time from patients requiring support for social, non-clinical needs. GPs also felt that patients’ health was being negatively affected by increasing financial strains and the impact of welfare reforms such as the cap on overall benefits.
Placing welfare advice services in GP practices (co-location) is one approach to supporting people whose health is affecting, or affected by, such problems. It is also hoped that such services will ease pressures on practices. For example, by supporting patients to fill out welfare benefit forms that might otherwise be brought to GPs.
Previous evaluations of these services provided limited information about whether they improve patient health or reduce pressure on GP practices. A lack of such evidence can affect continued funding of welfare advice services.
Researchers evaluated co-located welfare advice services in two London boroughs. Through surveys and interviews with patients, medical professionals and advisers, they examined whether and how such services could support patients and GP practices. Researchers compared changes in mental health, financial strains and help-seeking behaviours, to a group that had not received such advice so they be more certain that any improvements were due to the co-located advice.
Among patients receiving advice mental health and well-being improved, and experienced reduced financial strain. They gained £15 per £1 of funder investment, in welfare income that they were entitled to but missing out on previously, and reorganised debts. However, there was no change in how often people receiving advice visited their GP. The interviews revealed the potential for co-located advice to reduce GP pressures. They also identified key enablers and barriers to whether or not this would happen, such as a lack of awareness of the service amongst GP staff.
Overall, findings suggest co-located welfare advice improves short-term mental health and well-being, reduces financial strains and supports people to receive financial support they are entitled to. The findings also suggest that co-location alone is unlikely to enable positive outcomes for practices, therefore practice suggestions are offered to increase the potential for these services to reduce GP pressures, such as increasing awareness of the service and improving understanding of how it can support GP work.
SPHR final report: Evaluation of a Welfare Advice Hub pilot scheme