GPs and teams advise patients on lifestyle choices but ‘prescribing’ certain foods ‘inappropriate’, says RCGP

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, responds to the National Food Strategy, published today.

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Responding to the National Food Strategy, published today, particularly on the proposal for GPs to prescribe fruit and veg to patients, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the following:

“Living a healthy lifestyle generally leads to better health outcomes for patients, and that includes taking regular exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking in accordance with guidelines, and not smoking.

“Encouraging patients to make the lifestyle changes necessary for them to live more healthily is important. It is something GPs and other members of our team do on a daily basis for patients whose weight is having a negative impact on their health.

“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. We have over recent years, however, seen the benefit of ‘social prescribers’ or link workers working as part of the practice team. These professionals can talk to patients and recommend non-medical interventions in the best interests of their health, and this could include, for example, cookery classes, to support them to eat more healthily.

“GPs and our teams are currently working under intense workload and workforce pressure. Having conversations with patients about their lifestyle can often be sensitive, and this takes time – this is particularly difficult within the constraints of the standard 10-minute consultation. 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.”

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