Frontline voice: Volunteering for CAP and being a GP

CAP’s frontline workers are volunteers who are passionate about making a difference in their community. This is not just something they do one or two days a week with CAP, but is reflected in their whole lives. For many, working with CAP enhances their career, and vice versa.

Catherine runs our Medway Rochester CAP Debt Centre, and is also a NHS General Practitioner three days a week. Here she shares how volunteering as a CAP Debt Centre Manager goes hand-in-hand with her day job.

Tell us about your work as a GP.

I have been a GP for twelve years and I currently work in an urban, inner city practice in Chatham. It’s an area with quite a lot of social deprivation, but also some more affluent areas. We serve a variety of patients, and there’s a real ethnic mix. We see lots of vulnerable people, family breakdown, and also work with a fair number of people with alcohol and drug issues.

Why did you get involved with CAP?

At work I’d see people coming in with depression for many different reasons, but debt was a major one. It crops up time and time again, you know “I’ve got financial worries” or “I can’t do X, Y and Z, because I’m needing to pay off my debts”. I heard about CAP about five years ago, from a family member who was a CAP Debt Centre Manager in Scotland, and I thought that it sounded amazing and could be something great for Medway. Initially I trained as a CAP Money Coach, but then with the support of another church in the area and community projects, my church decided to open a CAP Debt Centre almost three years ago.

What do you love about being a CAP Debt Centre Manager?

Often as a GP I have to get people in and out in ten minutes, so I really enjoy being able to take the time to get to know my clients. Talking to people about their money opens up so many different things in their lives that they want to talk to you about. It’s a similar situation as a GP, but it’s different as it’s more “what can I do for you today?”. With CAP we also give clients an answer, but we take the time to understand how the financial situation they are in affects their whole lives.

Do you see working as a GP and a CAP Debt Centre Manager as separate roles?

For me, it’s not about a career or a role, it’s about what I’m called to do. I want to show practical compassion, and working as a GP and volunteering for CAP are two different ways of expressing that. I don’t normally tell clients that I’m a GP unless they ask, because I want to meet them in what we are talking about. I’m always worried that they will think I won’t be able to understand their situation, but mostly people are intrigued to know why I volunteer for CAP as well. To me, helping people with their debts is the same in many ways as being a GP. Debt is a sickness in our society really, isn’t it?

How does volunteering for CAP fit alongside your career?

I work as a GP three days a week, and volunteer for CAP two days. It can be a challenge to keep the days separate; for instance, I had a text from a client on Friday morning, saying, “I’ve had a disaster and I’ve got no money for gas and electric”. I just had to say, “I will sort something out, but I’m just at work, I will be around at 18:30”. So there are things like that, but I do try hard not to muddle the two things, because otherwise it becomes too stressful. I’ve learnt that one.

How has your experience as a GP helped you in your role as a CAP Debt Centre Manager?

As a GP I’ve probably heard and seen just about everything over the years, so I’m never shocked by anything I see as a CAP Debt Centre Manager. About 85% of the people I visit with CAP have mental health problems, and my experience as a GP gives me a much better insight into how to support these clients as well. One of the main skills I have as a GP is the way that I can communicate with people in every age group, social economic background and nationality. It’s helpful as a centre manager, being able to communicate with anybody and everybody, and knowing how to ask questions to draw out more information. 

Has being a CAP Debt Centre Manager added anything to your work as a GP?

GPs don’t really visit people at home anymore, elderly and frail people yes, but not young families. Visiting clients in their homes has been eye opening, and given me a better understanding of some of the patients I see in general practice. The types of housing situations in particular, the extent this can impact on their health can be very upsetting. It has given me a bit more compassion, or at least general understanding of where people are coming from. When they say “there’s damp in my house” or “there are things falling off the walls”, I actually really know what they mean now, because I’ve seen it in my clients’ houses.

How have you seen the impact of your CAP Debt Centre in your professional work?

There have been patients who came into the surgery regularly, that I have referred to CAP. I recommend that they work with the other debt coach in my centre, as I think it’s helpful to keep that professional distance. I don’t know the details, but I hear little snippets of how the debt coaches’ church has really helped these families. The problem in general practice is that you see lots of isolated people, but we don’t have a sort of professional referral point to help someone with their loneliness. For instance, this lady went to an afternoon tea at the church and had a really good time. I just think it’s amazing to see the benefit to someone’s mental health from being part of a community, I mean that’s what we are designed for!

To find out more and to find your CAP Debt Centre, visit capdebthelp.org

For more information about referring to CAP, please email externalaffairs@capuk.org.

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