SWINDON Foodbank is at risk of being exploited by phony claimants who plead with GPs to refer them to the charity despite knowing nothing of their financial situation.

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.

However, Peter Swinyard, a practitioner at Phoenix Surgery in Toothill, and chair of the Family Doctors Association, does not believe GPs are best placed to make such crucial decisions.

He said: “In all honesty I don’t think we are best placed to decide who goes to foodbanks, because we don’t know what their financial circumstances are.

“It is very difficult for us to see who is in need and who is not. People can play the system.

“This is better done by the social services, who actually look into someone’s financial situation, and make a logical decision.

“I don’t know where this [referral system] was dumped from.

“When I see anything that says GPs are best placed to do something, I come out in a horrible rash.”

The potential for phony claimants may rise in balance with the soaring numbers who seek to claim food handouts from Swindon Foodbank.

At the start of last month, demand for the help on offer at the foodbank would rise by 25 per cent in comparison with previous years, according to David Hartridge, the project manager in Swindon.

At the time, David said he was confident the rising numbers were a direct result of more people falling into crisis.

He said: “It was much busier than normal [ahead of Christmas], probably 25 per cent up year-on-year. This could be down to factors including an awareness that help is at hand.

“More and more people know the foodbank is there.

“Michael Gove seemed to dismiss the increase in usage simply being along the lines of more awareness.

“I am 100 per cent adamant people genuinely need more help.

“Unfortunately this is just a feature of the economic difficulties that individuals and families face today.”

As a part of the foodbank’s desire to meet the needs of those in crisis, it this week opened a satellite collection station in West Swindon, which has already had an impact on Dr Swinyard and his colleagues.

“We have just been asked by a new foodbank in Freshbrook if there was anyone we could recommend they contact with help,” he said.

“I don’t wish to deny people access to foodbanks, I want the right people to get access.

“This is a lifeline for people and it must not be abused. I just don’t think we are best placed to give this the okay. How can I know if someone is poor or not?”