GPS say that a deluge of patients urgently requesting foodbank referrals would push their surgeries to breaking point.

Doctors – along with social workers, health visitor teams and other social organisations – are allowed to issue foodbank referrals to those they feel are in need of a food donatione.

However, only three surgeries in Blackburn have signed up to be ‘voucher holders’, meaning they can issue a patient with a foodbank voucher themselves.

The voucher can then be taken to the Blackburn foodbank in Brunswick Street and exchanged for three days’ worth of emergency food.

Only the three Cornerstones Practices – Shadsworth Surgery, Lambeth Street Surgery and Bentham Road Health Centre – are foodbank voucher holders, as well as Darwen Health Centre.

GP surgeries that don’t issue vouchers can still refer patients to the foodbank but would have to contact the foodbank themselves and often feel they do not have time to do so.

Dr Claire Rushton, a GP at Roman Road Health Centre and Vice Chair of the Family Doctor Association, said patients making medical appointments to tell doctors they are hungry and need help was not making the best use of their time.

Dr Rushton said: “We’re so busy already I don’t know how we would find the time.

“I don’t think it’s the role of a GP to refer people as we cannot assess how much money people have — if someone was malnourished, I’d send them to a dietician. I had one patient who asked for a foodbank referral because she was on low income. l don’t know how much money she had, but how could I have said no? I just wrote a letter to the foodbank and hoped they helped her.”

Ros Duerden, of the Blackburn foodbank, said: “I have written to all GPs in our area, so they know how to become a voucher holder.

“When they ring us, they can refer someone for emergency food, which we honour, or they can refer them for an assessment if they are unsure.

“Doctors can see if someone is malnourished or if they may struggle to get to the shops, but they are not necessarily aware of people’s financial needs and whether or not they have any support. I think that’s why we see more referrals from health visitors and social workers who are more aware of these kinds of issues.”