GPs have started ‘prescribing’ vouchers for a food bank because of the growing number of patients with ‘hunger-related illnesses’.
Bosses at Blackburn food bank said they had seen the number of people using their services increase from around three or four a week when it opened two months ago in Brunswick Street to at least 25 a day.
Community leaders said they were shocked people were becoming ill because they could not afford to feed themselves and their families.
The centre, in Whalley Banks, has had several GPs sign up to give out the vouchers, but is hoping other doctors will get involved.
Ros Duerden, food bank manager, said doctors were giving the vouchers to patients with illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
She said: “What is happening is that people with hunger-related illnesses are presenting with symptoms of stress.
“You can imagine a parent’s dilemma if they cannot afford to feed their children.
“Often people can become quite depressed or anxious.
“It is absolutely dreadful that people are as hungry as they are.”
She added that while vouchers were not technically being given as a medical prescription, they were being given to people who were in desperate need.
To receive a voucher, people must be identified by their GP, health visitor, social worker or Citizens Advice Bureau.
They bring their voucher to the centre where it can be redeemed for three days’ emergency food.
They can also chat with volunteers, who give advice over a cup of tea, and are offered a free hot meal.
Roy Davies, Darwen town councillor and ex-member of Blackburn with Darwen Council health scrutiny committee, said: “It is like doctors are prescribing food.
“It is only a short-term fix, but I suppose this is better than nothing.”
Coun Mohammed Khan, executive member for health at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “We are living in one of the richest countries in the world and it is really, really sad that we are having to collect food for some of the most vulnerable people.
“We need to look at the reasons why this is happening.
“We should be proud of the food bank, it shows very good community spirit, but the government should have some responsibility for why we are in this mess.”
Dr Chris Clayton, chief clinical officer of the Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Board, said: “We are looking at how services and the CCG can all work together to ensure that appropriate people and families are referred to the food bank and supported during these difficult times.”
Mrs Duerden said the food bank was now looking for volunteers to help hand out parcels, which include tinned vegetables and fruit, fish, meat, juice, milk.
No perishable items or fresh foods are given out.
She said: “Everything we have has a long sell-by date.
“We try to offer everybody that comes a little treat as well.
“A lot of the folk we are seeing have been denied lots of choices by their circumstances so we try to give them a bit of a boost.”
The Trussell Trust, which runs the Blackburn food bank, partners with churches and communities to open food banks nationwide. It has over 250 food banks in the UK.
To find out more about the food bank, call 01254 672756 or visit blackburn.foodbank.org.uk