GPs are being forced to act as debt counsellors as poor mental health is made worse by financial problems, according to the London Health Forum.

In a report, London: Capital of debt, it says that rising unemployment and fears over pending cuts in public spending is threatening to increase the number of GP appointments linked to debt.

The forum estimates that 250,000 people in London suffer from debt and mental health issues, a situation that costs the NHS up to £450 million a year. 

Meanwhile, the stress of repaying debts is likely to put the health of thousands more at increased risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure and other serious conditions.

LHF director John Murray said: “The latest figures from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service show a 40 per cent increase in calls from Londoners to its helpline compared to a year ago.

“Unfortunately, many people struggling with debt seek advice later than they should becoming ill as a result. 

“The NHS therefore needs to go onto a preventive footing by getting people to debt advice sooner, using the extensive channels of communication at its disposal.”