Money worries affect health

Curing financial woes?

How do you fancy discussing your finances with your GP? Thought not. I find it enough of a strain “hopping on to the scales” and lying about my weekly intake of alcohol units without having to justify my weekly impulse buys at Oxfam – “Well doctor, I know £1.99 is a lot to pay for a John Lewis print but it looked like an original till I took it out of the frame….”

But apparently money worries are having such a detrimental effect on people’s health that the head of Public Health England wants doctors to start prescribing financial advice to their patients.

Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, likened the health problems caused by poverty and debt to those caused by smoking and alcohol abuse and said that GPs should be on hand to “intervene” to help tackle them in the same way that they would offer an alcoholic support to stop drinking and advise someone with high blood pressure to reduce their salt intake and increase their exercise routine.

Now I’ve lost count of the number of times I have linked over-spending with binge eating and drinking and compared getting on top of our finances with sticking to a healthy diet and fitness programme, but that does not mean I would ever expect my GP to either ask me about the health of my bank account or suggest that I start reducing my shopping habits.

Apart from the fact that our GP surgery has quite enough to do keeping my blood pressure down, tackling Cleo’s increasingly dramatic fitness injuries and removing the odd pea from Katy’s nose (which they did over the phone with the calm precision of an RAF pilot talking a passenger into landing a jumbo jet for the first time), I can’t see how it would ever be appropriate for a doctor to discuss a patient’s financial situation in any but the most dire or unavoidable cases. That, like any other social problem that affects a person’s health, is already happening. If a patient turns up to a GP surgery clearly malnourished or neglected a GP would immediately refer them to someone who can help them. Equally if someone is losing sleep or suffering depression because they have lost their job or are facing repossession or bankruptcy, a GP can offer counselling or suggest somewhere they can to go for practical advice. Other than that, the delicate relationship between a doctor and a patient relies on keeping a respectful distance when it comes to personal circumstances, otherwise what one patient might see as a relevant and helpful suggestion, another might see as judgemental and intrusive.

I know I would, and so far GPs seem to be treating any attempt to include patients’ finances as well as their physical symptoms when offering a diagnosis with a healthy degree of scepticism. But just in case, before I take Katy across the road to the surgery to discuss that Monday morning tummy ache I think I’ll swap that rhinestone brooch on my jacket I picked up at the PDSA shop on Saturday for something a little less showy. I don’t want to spark an intervention.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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