Research manager Richard Kunzman tells the story behind Insight Research Group's survey into 'Austerity Britain' through the eyes of 300 GPs:

The last four years have been tough for everyone. Although we assumed that increased workloads and financial worries had affected the nation’s health to a certain extent, we wanted to hear from GPs about what they believed was happening on the ground based on their daily experiences in their practices.

The results are particularly insightful and show the extent to which the economy is not only affecting the average person on the street but also the GPs that treat them.

The GPs we surveyed felt that worries over financial security coupled with many people working longer hours have raised our stress levels. This has not only led to an increase in various mental health disorders but has also influenced other aspects of our life and wellbeing – from family planning through to levels of exercise.

The middle class has been especially affected by the turbulence of the economic recession – amongst all of the conditions that were investigated, GPs routinely associated the increases they’ve seen with middle Britain. But these pressures are not limited to one demographic either – married women and single women were both as likely to request a termination due to financial concerns.

It’s a particularly tough challenge for time-poor GPs who are faced with many patients who just need someone to talk to. Their only real option in the immediate term is to prescribe medication, which of course is rarely the solution.

Here are the top findings according to Insight Research Group’s survey of 300 UK GPs:

• 76% said they believed the economic climate of the last four years has had a negative impact on their patient’s health

• 77% felt there had been an increase in new cases (since 2008) of mental health disorders linked to the stresses of the economic climate. Of those 231 UK GPs:
     o 46% thought the greatest increase was in depression
     o 54% felt the greatest increase was in anxiety disorders
     o 83% said mental health conditions have had an impact on their practice

• 64% felt patients are drinking more alcohol

• 77% said they believed more of their patients are working longer hours due to concerns about job security

• 62% felt they had seen an increase in the number of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) applications for patients who appear to be more in financial distress than in genuine need of support as a result of their health condition

• 38% believed more of their patients who are smokers are quitting or reducing the number of cigarettes they smoke to save money.

• 60% felt that more patients are cancelling sporting activities (gym memberships etc) to save money

• 34% believed there had been an increase in patients putting off starting a family until their financial security improves

• 17% felt there had been an increase in patients specifically requesting terminations of pregnancies due to concerns about financial security

Whose health has been worst affected in the recession?
• The greatest increase in new cases of mental health disorders as a result of the economic downturn is believed to be amongst those aged between 36 to 45 (49%), and those who have kids and are married or living with their partner (58%)
• When it comes to gender breakdown, GPs believed there to be higher increases of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse amongst men
• The only condition where GPs felt women experienced the greatest increase in new cases since the 2008 recession is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (66% versus 19% in men)

The survey gathered the opinions of 300 GPs from across the UK about how Britain’s health has been affected by the turbulent economy since 2008 based on their experiences with patients. In addition, the research included over 40 in-depth qualitative interviews undertaken through Insight’s online GP community, e-Village. To differentiate between general health trends and specifically the impact of the economic recession, GPs were asked to only consider those instances where patients linked their behaviours and/or conditions with financial hardship or concerns about job security during their health visit.