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Working as a London hospital doctor, I see the human consequences of inequality every day. I treat the symptoms of a patient’s airway disease, but poverty, malnutrition, poor housing, anxiety, and social isolation are contributory factors for which I have no prescription. My privileged life and medical training has failed to prepare me to be an advocate for my patients.
Last year, feeling powerless in the face of austerity, I contacted my local foodbank. Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Many people who are issued a foodbank voucher are in work.
The Trussell Trust’s network of over 420 foodbanks provide emergency food and support to these people in crisis. Many healthcare workers volunteer abroad, but you do not need to go far to find a fulfilling role.
At our foodbank centre near Euston station the service continues to grow, now opening four days a week. The overall figures for Camden Foodbank have seen a tenfold increase in clients since 2012/13 to 3,188 clients supported in 2015/16. During that year nearly 30 tonnes of food were collected and redistributed.
The foodbank is warm, welcoming and free of judgement. Clients are treated with respect and compassion.
The few hours I give to the foodbank have a small but meaningful impact on the people who attend. But they have a huge impact on me.
I look forward to every session, and always leave energised and enriched. I am acquiring knowledge about homelessness, the benefits system, and local third sector organisations, which enhances my professional ability. I am gaining skills in teamwork, organisation, communication, leadership, fundraising and networking.
I love the lack of hierarchy and the compassion the team shows for each other as well as our clients. The foodbank is a beacon of hope and human contact for clients and volunteers alike. The money from this prize will allow us to invest in our foodbank centre and support our clients, who are often described as being 'at the margins of society'.
They are not at the margins; they are right here in our communities and we will continue to be there for them as long as they need us.
Laura-Jane Smith is an ST6 in respiratory and general internal medicine in London. She was one of the winners of this year’s BMA Doctors as Volunteers poster competition
Find out more about the competition