FOODBANK project manager David Hartridge is happy to risk phony claimants slipping through the net at doctor’s surgeries if it means GPs remain a vital referral source for those in genuine crisis.

David’s defence of Swindon Foodbank and its referrals system came after comments by Toothill practitioner Peter Swinyard, who felt GPs were not best placed to refer people for food handouts.

The charity’s chief agreed decisions on referring people to the help on offer at the foodbank should be made solely on financial grounds, but disputed the idea doctors are a misplaced cog in the system.

David said: “From time to time, unfortunately we are only human. We do have people who have tried it on, but the number for those who are not genuine claimants is less than one per cent in total.

“The fact is, I’m prepared to take that risk, for the sake of the 99 per cent who depend on the work we do.

“To be honest, if someone wants to be deceptive then one has to take that person and either tell them they don’t believe them and send them away or you accept their story without evidence and offer them help on a one-off basis.”

Doctors, along with social workers, health visitors and social organisations, have the power to refer members of the public who are most in need to foodbank organisations, who offer food handouts.

These professional groups act as a filter for foodbanks, deciding who is and who is not in genuine need of help with food.

David does not believe the current system of referrals needs to change. Although if it became a more widespread problem which caused problems nationwide, he would back the need for change.

“A lot of the people we see have some sort of medical condition; they may be medically unfit to work, or suffering depression. Doctors see these issues and may need to refer to us for help,” said David.

“As far as the doctor is concerned, we are not asking him to comment on the financial situations of patients.

“A doctor sees evidence of an inability to feed one’s children for instance, through a consultation. It is also the staff around the doctor at the practice; all can ask if a foodbank voucher would help on a one-off basis.

“By accepting the risk (of false claims), recognising the risk is a low number and recognising it exists, I would want to offer GPs the opportunity to be part of the scheme.

“They don’t have to issue the vouchers just because they have them. If they don’t want the vouchers at all, that’s fine too. There is no obligation for GPs to be a part of this.”