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‘Inappropriate’ for practice teams to prescribe fruit and veg, says RCGP

by Jess Hacker
16 July 2021

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Expecting practice teams to prescribe fruit and veg ‘isn’t appropriate’, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has said after a Government-backed report recommended GPs should do so for people who have poor access to healthy food.

The National Food Strategy, independently led by businessman Henry Dimbleby, suggested the Government trial a programme giving GPs the option to prescribe fruit and vegetables to patients suffering the effects of poor diet or food insecurity.

Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP chair, said that advising patients on healthier lifestyle choices is already something that is done on a daily basis.

‘Whilst GPs and other members of our team will give appropriate lifestyle advice, including about eating healthily and signposting them to resources to help them do this, in the best interests of their health, it isn’t appropriate for us to ‘prescribe’ them certain foods,’ he said.

The role of social prescribers and link workers in general practice may be better suited to ‘talk to patients and recommend non-medical interventions’, including cookery classes, he suggested.

Professor Marshall said that sensitive conversations like this are challenging in a 10-minute consultation, with more support needed to tackle workforce pressures.

He said: ‘We need more time with our patients, we need more GPs and members of the practice team and we need more to be done to address the current ‘undoable’ workload in general practice.’

Reducing food insecurity

The National Food Strategy also said a tax should be applied to sugar and salt sold for use in processed foods or in restaurants and catering businesses.

An estimated £2.9-£3.4bn a year of the revenue should be used to give fruit and vegetables to low-income families, it suggested.

It also said ‘the true cost of eating healthily should be calculated into benefits payments’, dashing the ‘widespread notion’ that giving low-income households extra money to spend on food is a ‘waste of time’.

It said: ‘Studies in this country have shown that, as poorer families’ income goes up, they spend more on fruit, vegetables, fibre, oily fish and other foods rich in vitamins and minerals. And families actually cut their spending on alcohol and tobacco as their income rises.’

Other recommendations include:

  • Mandatory reporting by large companies of sales of healthy foods, including fruit and vegetables, as well as foods high in fat, sugar or salt
  • New measures in schools to encourage teaching about food, including reinstating an A Level in food
  • Extending the eligibility for free school meals
  • Extending school holiday clubs that provide food and activities to children receiving free school meals
  • Expanding a scheme for families with young children on low incomes that provides coupons for vitamins and vouchers for fruit and vegetables.

Last month, NHS England announced £20m of new funding for a new weight management GP enhanced service, which was criticised by the BMA for trying to ‘micromanage practices’.