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The waiting game

Increasing number of GPs asked to refer patients to foodbanks

Exclusive The number of GPs having to refer patients to food banks is increasing, with more than one in five having to take drastic action due to increasing poverty levels.

A Pulse survey of 695 GPs found that 22% had been asked to refer a patient to a food bank in the past 12 months – an increase on the 16% who said they had been asked the previous year

The survey highlights the growing pressure on GPs to assume responsibility for other parts of the system, even as they are struggling to cope with their own workload.

Many of the respondents to the survey explained that they didn’t have the information on hand to assess their patient’s financial need, and explained that refusing patients could undermine their relationship.

GP leaders have previously described this as an ‘impossible position’ for GPs, having to decide which patients were worthy of help and which were not, but politicians have even stated that the requirement for a GP referral ‘rightly limits provision’ and prevents ‘a culture of dependency being created’.

Pulse reported last year that the previous Government’s austerity measures were having a knock-on impact on public health, with the number of patients discharged after being treated for malnutrition having risen 84% in the five years to 2012/13.

One respondent from London said that they were dealing with requests once every two weeks.

Another GP who didn’t wish to be named, from the North West, told Pulse that their CCG had directed them to act as a gatekeeper for foodbank services, saying: ‘We were informed we would be getting food vouchers and would be expected to direct appropriate families to the food centres.

‘We refused to accept our vouchers as we felt this could not possibly be a part of our job. I am more than happy to refer to social services as required. I did not feel we could be expected to take on any additional work such as this.’

Dr John Caldwell, a GP in Liverpool, said the problems are increasing.

He said: ‘Food banks have been around for some years, but the usage of them has been much higher in our area over the last few years, and is still rising. The requirement that a family get a voucher from a doctor is a humiliating process which I believe to be completely unnecessary in the vast majority of cases. 

‘Another sign of the victimisation of the poor which is prevalent under the current Government, and a further sign that GP time is considered valueless.’

Former RCGP chair and London GP Professor Clare Gerada has said that GPs were increasingly expected to fill in gaps across all areas of social care support, saying: ‘It’s not just food banks we are seeing an increase in. It’s letters of support to housing and for benefits. We are seeing increasing homeless and unstable accommodation. ‘

‘The poor are getting poorer and GPs see the consequences way before the official figures pick it up.’

Survey results in full

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

Yes: 120 (21.58%)

No: 537 (77.27%)

Don’t know: 8 (1.15%)

Total respondents: 695

The survey was launched on 9 June 2015, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 34 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize drawer for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. A total of 695 GPs answered this question.

Image credit: Walmart Corporate



Readers' comments (31)

  • *sigh*

    This is not contractual work
    We have no training in this kind of assessment (and don't want any either)
    We have no method of assessing patients
    We do not have the capacity to do this

    If food banks want patients assessed, they should find a method of doing this which doesn't involve us. This is not a primary care issue.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Poverty: an excellent UK definition SHOULD be, "When people do not have enough money to buy cigarettes".

    The current system of having food banks is laudable, and understandable, but I bet a lot of the users are morbidly obese and think the way to buy food is ready-meals in Morrisons rather than buying relatively cheap veg from the greengrocer. (If you are in a town.) People have forgotten how lovely some types of offal can be. I love liver, I love Haggis. I love kidney. This stuff is cheap and nutritious.

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  • Sorry, not my job. My signature is a statement of the facts as I see them and I have no knowledge of a pt's income nor how they spend it, therefore no signature.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Polarity/gap between rich and poor is clearly widening . This single-minded government wants to carry politics further to the right,FIne
    No wonder we have an very interesting labour leadership competition with 'surprising' poll results.Action and Reaction,Yin and Yan ,particle and anti-particle.
    Yes,argument stays whether the people needing help from food bank are really genuine cases.
    BUT I would say many of them are really sruggling with lives.
    Yes, it is not our job to gatekeep the foodbanks but like every other socio-medical issues , despicable politicians are deliberately avoiding to face the problems and pass the buck onto the BIG SOCIETY.
    WE ,GP,hence become the gatekeeper of the big society where social injustice is escalating.
    Then , tax payer money to pay for e-cigarette which is cheaper than cigarettes itself??

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  • If any GPs have taken part in this, it is most disappointing, for they undermine all GPs and betray the profession by doing so. Sadly, it does not surprise me that there are GPs who will.

    A GP should say to any such request " i have no knowledge of this, I am a doctor, do not insult me and waste my precious appontments with your social services request. Please go elsewhere".

    Foodbanks that require a GP referral should have been told by their LMCs where to shove it.

    For gawd's sake will you GPs never stand up for yourselves, you have no self-respect so why do you think the public should respect you any more when you don't yourselves?

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  • @Practice Manager 12:15pm.
    Well said!

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  • Agree with all the above. food banks have nothing to do with GP's. I will not be referring or signing any such forms, not trained, not paid, not doing. end of.

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  • ...probably shouldn't have voted Tory.......the divergence of rich and poor is not going to be good for anybody. Ultimately it'll end in tears for all. The poor are getting it in the neck now but the line to survive will move higher and the middle classes will be next.

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  • "Anonymous | NHS Manager | 20 August 2015 1:39pm
    ...probably shouldn't have voted Tory.......the divergence of rich and poor is not going to be good for anybody"

    Putting aside party political ideology and looking at actual facts, income inequality rose to new record levels under the last LABOUR government.

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  • Entirely agree with all the comments.

    Nobody HAS to refer patients to foodbanks. Anyone who does so CHOOSES to, to the possible benefit of their patients and the certain undermining of their professional colleagues.

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