GPs in two deprived London boroughs have started prescribing fruit and vegetables to patients as part of a pilot.
Backed by £250,000 of funding from local authorities in Tower Hamlets and Lambeth and a charity, the pilot will assess whether such an approach can help tackle diet-related ill health and food insecurity
Those taking part will be prescribed vouchers for fruit and veg worth between £6 to £8 per week plus £2 per week for each household member, which they can spend with local retailers and market trader.
The pilot – thought to be the largest of its kind so far in the UK – is being done partnership with the Bromley by Bow GP Centre in Tower Hamlets and The Beacon Project in Lambeth.
In Tower Hamlets, patients will also be invited to take part in monthly healthy lifestyle group sessions to improve their understanding of nutrition and health.
The vouchers are being offered through the Alexandra Rose Charity, which already has a project to help families on low incomes buy fresh fruit and veg.
Over a year, vouchers will be distributed to a target group of 122 residents across both boroughs who are at risk of, or have, conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or mental health conditions and are struggling financially.
When the pilot is evaluated, it could be rolled out across the UK subject to funding, organisers said.
Earlier this year, the Government announced that GPs would be asked to pilot prescribing of healthy food.
It followed a Government-commissioned paper which found that GPs should prescribe fruit and vegetables to people who have poor access to healthy food and PCNs should look at developing ‘Community Eatwell’ programmes’.
Professor Sir Sam Everington, a GP in Bromley by Bow, said all clinicians should embrace the prescription of fruit and veg. ‘So many long and short-term illnesses deteriorate significantly with a poor diet.
‘A healthy diet can often achieve far more than any medicines I can prescribe as a GP.
‘When I trained over 40 years ago, type 2 diabetes was a disease of the elderly. We are now seeing it in teenagers. Much of it is preventable with a healthy diet and good regular exercise. Fruit and veg should be part of every prescription.’
Dr Chi-Chi Ekhator, GP lead at the Beacon Project, said: ‘Fruit and veg on prescription is absolutely key to tackling health inequalities in many vulnerable communities.
‘As a GP, I continue to hear more and more from patients who have to make choices such as eating or heating as they grapple with the economic climate.
‘It is not surprising that choosing to purchase fruits and vegetables becomes less of a priority. This scheme aims to help those who are most vulnerable achieve better control of their health through lifestyle choices that are evidenced based and will indeed make a huge difference not only to the individual but also to the NHS as a whole.
Data released last week showed more than twice as many children are obese by aged five in the most, compared with the least, deprived areas.
A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.