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Independents' Day

One in six GPs asked to refer a patient to a food bank in the past year

Exclusive GPs are facing increasing pressure from patients hit by the recession, with one in six saying they have been asked to refer a patient to a food bank in the past 12 months.

A Pulse survey of 522 GPs found that 16% had been asked to refer patients to food banks, with 84% saying they had not.

The survey comes after Pulse reported concern among GP leaders that practices were being placed in an ‘impossible position’ by charities who require them to refer patients to food banks before agreeing to offer help.

Food bank charities increasingly require a referral from a sanctioned support agency, which can include schools, GPs or the job centre, to ensure that support reaches the most needy.

GPs have been reporting rising workload as a result of the recession. Last year, Pulse revealed figures showing a 21% increase in requests for GPs to verify work capability, after attempts to cut the welfare budget brought thousands of additional patients up for review.

Senior GPs have explained the system can put a strain on the doctor-patient relationship, as well as taking up appointment spaces and disproportionately affecting deprived areas.

Professor Clare Gerada, former RCGP chair and chair of London’s Primary Care Clinical Board, said that GPs were being caught up in the ‘hoops’ the genuinely needy had to jump through to get help.

She said: ‘Poverty is an enormous workload issue, and again, it’s the inverse care rule because it creates more work for GPs in poorer areas who don’t get resourced for it so you end up with more work and less time, etc etc.’

‘People do naturally turn to their GPs, they don’t know where else to go, so they come to you. And because we get so much criticism, I get so fed up. We’re there trying to sort out everybody’s problems and meanwhile the posh middle classes are complaining because they can’t get access to us.’

Dr Joanne Peters, a GP who recently retired from the profession after 28 years practicing in Dunstable, Bedfordshire said: ‘I had two patients ask for food bank referrals in my last two months. I had to ask the patients for details as I had not been informed of the criteria.’

‘It created no patient-doctor relationship problems - but I did not see it as my responsibility and it seemed like another unpaid task taking up scarce GP appointments.’

BMA deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand said that GPs were taking on more social problems due to hardship among their patients: ‘We are not a Third World country, we are one of the largest richest economies in the world. If the situation has succumbed to this level then our political masters have to look at how we’ve got to this.’

‘GPs now do almost everything. We see all social problems as a matter of fact, we deal with social problems more than anything else. More than anybody, more than social workers, bbecause [it’s] the first port of call when anybody is in any distress, whether it’s physical, mental, social or now just hunger. People call their GP and I’m very proud to be a GP in that sense, that we are very sympathetic to it.’

Have you been asked to refer a patient to a food bank within the past 12 months?

Yes - 16%

No - 84%

Source: Pulse survey of 522 GPs

About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 21 January 2013, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 28 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. These questions were answered by 522 GPs.

Readers' comments (7)

  • This is another case of a.n.other external agency using already scarce GP time as if it were an unlimited free resource.

    I have no special means or training to assess someone's financial position as regards whether they can feed themselves. Such organisations should make their own arrangements for assessment and let us get back to the medical problems that we are struggling to deal with already.

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  • "Just hunger" Dr Chand? Oh, and by the way, you're political masters don't give a hoot.

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  • This type of request is expressly prohibited- dig out " reducing GP paperwork "
    and I quote from the introduction;-

    "This is a fine balance to maintain,"
    "as it could be argued that any approach to a GP about one of their patients is a clinical enquiry almost by definition. Unfortunately, over time citizens, businesses and public sector bodies have placed increased certification and verification demands on GPs. The culture that has evolved is one in which GPs are approached almost as a matter of course because they are seen as an accessible, cost-effective and reputable source of information. This has created an imbalance where inappropriate paperwork (i.e. requests for certificates and verification unrelated directly to the clinical treatment of a patient) is diverting and distracting GPs from providing a high quality and responsive service to those in need of treatment.

    There now exists a culture and mistaken belief that GPs are a legitimate source of all patient-related information and should be consulted first in all cases. This must be remedied if the potential to reduce paperwork offered by the actions set out in this report is to be optimised. "

    And for organisations and citizens chapter 5 states
    "Public sector organisations, including Government Departments

    • Do not automatically seek information from a GP. Find out what relevant information the person or other government departments and agencies already possess, such as entitlement to certain benefits. Contact the Cabinet Office Public Sector Team (see back of this report for details) if data sharing appears to be a problem.

    • Consider the use of self-certification. Where there are barriers to this, consider self-certification with follow-ups for further information as and when circumstances demand. But follow-ups should be the exception rather than the rule.

    • Ask yourself whether a GP is the only, or indeed most appropriate, person to provide the information you are seeking. Use other professionals or persons that are likely to be in regular contact with the person or better placed give you precisely what you want.

    • Consider the use of occupational health specialists if necessary – they are trained to advise on the effects that a medical condition will have on a person's ability to undertake particular tasks.

    • If you feel that information from a GP is essential, then ensure that you request factual clinical information only, not opinions about the effects of a condition.


    • Do not contact your GP for non-medical reasons. Time that a GP spends counter-signing documents such as passport and driving licence applications could be spent treating patients and reducing your waiting times.

    • Consider alternative sources of advice. For example, your pharmacist or NHS (111).

    • If you are unsure whether you should contact your GP, speak to one of the practice staff first.

    • If you are asked who should be approached to provide medical information about you,consider whether your GP is always the best answer. Could someone else – for example, a consultant, health visitor or nurse – provide more accurate and up to date information "

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  • >you're (sic) political masters don't give a hoot.

    That may well be the case. However, that still doesn't make it something that a GP needs to 'certify'.

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  • Vinci Ho

    While my practice and my staff are actively gathering food for donation to our local food bank , I do not agree to this voucher system to restrict people 's access to food banks . The argument of creating dependency is despicable and insulting as if majority of these people going to food banks were 'abusing' the system . People go down this route because they have no choice !
    Unfortunately , we have a right winged government which is of the GDP, by the GDP , for the GDP...,,,

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  • I thought that we were out of the recession and that everything was fine and dandy with unemployment and inflation down. Why would people still be needing food banks becasue I'm sure that the government wouldnt be stretching the truth and painting a much better picture than reality!

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  • Vinci Ho

    One part of reality is called 'poverty at work' which is something politicians did not really want to talk about . Yes the unemployment is down but are all people who found 'work' better off?
    Of course GDP will go up because economic activities increase as more people work but is that all ?
    The patient I sent to food bank 2 weeks ago was exactly one of these unfortunate people , got a job , money spent on all the other commodities particularly heating for children in the house, hence no money left for food.
    How precisely do these a*** politicians understand the true pictures on the ground?

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