By ALEX WOOD @MrAlexWood
A Plymouth GP has resorted to prescribing nutritional drinks to his patients as "more and more" struggle to pay for food.
Dr Richard Ayres, who works at the Cumberland Surgery in Devonport, has started treating patients suffering from malnutrition - including parents of working class families - with high-calorie supplements.
Packed full of vitamins, the 400-calorie drinks are typically used post-surgery but Dr Ayres said they offer starving patients with at least some form of immediate nutrition.
However, he stressed the supplements were not a long-term solution to food poverty.
It comes just weeks after University of Southampton researchers found one in 25 people living in Devonport cannot afford to feed themselves.
"At the Cumberland, we provide outreach services to the homeless so we do see a higher percentage of complex needs," Dr Ayres told The Herald.
"But over the past two to three years, there has been a definite increase in the number of patients suffering from malnutrition.
"I am aware of the work that local foodbanks do so I often refer patients to those. It's not that common, but I am noticing patients who come in and are underweight say it's because they simply can't afford to eat.
"That's where the nutrition drinks come in, because we've been prescribing high-calorie supplements to people who have come out of surgery for years.
"They're around 400 calories and they have all the vitamins a person needs. It's not going to solve the underlying problems of food poverty but it's one of the few things I can do to help.
As the latest NHS figures show food poverty is on the rise, GPs are referring more patients to regional foodbanks - which provided about 57,000 emergency food supplies last year - than ever before.
Jackie Young, of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association, added: "Food poverty is going up and the latest NHS statistics support that.
"There are approximately 10,000 children in Plymouth suffering from malnutrition which, frankly, is 10,000 children too many.
"But by 2020, this will go up to 33,000. It's a real concern and it's not just people on benefits who are effected. We've noticed working class families also struggling to pay for food, on top of bills, a car and other things."
In a desperate plea for support, Jackie said the association - which provides food for charitable organisations, not individuals - needs more suppliers.
To find out more, visit http://www.devonandcornwallfoodassociation.org/
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