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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.