A pilot scheme to offer fruit and vegetables on prescription has seen six in 10 participants reduce their use of medications after eight months on the project.

And nine in 10 participants saw health improvements including weight loss, positive changes in blood glucose levels, higher energy levels and better digestion, a survey found.

The charity behind the pilot in Tower Hamlets and Lambeth has called for national rollout, after reporting benefits on physical and mental health and a reduction in GP appointments.

A report from the Alexandra Rose Charity also said that seven in ten participants in Lambeth with hypertension saw improved blood pressure measurements as recorded by healthcare staff.

There had also been a 40% reduction in GP visits after eight months of the scheme, which is funded through local public health services, among the participants who are high users of healthcare services, the charity said.

And six in ten were able to reduce their usage of medications needed to control blood sugar levels, iron levels, heartburn and acid reflux, colds and viruses, the report added.

Over half of those who provided feedback said that their mental health has also improved as they worry less about money for food.

So far 200 people have taken part – the vast majority of whom have multiple health conditions – with the analysis showing that 95% of the vouchers prescribed had been redeemed at local markets with people eating an extra three portions of fruit and veg each day on average.

Participants receive up to £8 in Rose vouchers every week to spend on fruit and veg of their choice.

The government first announced in 2022 that GPs would be asked to pilot prescribing of healthy food.

It followed a government-commissioned paper which found that GPs should prescribe fruit and vegetables to people who have poor access to healthy food and PCNs should look at developing ‘Community Eatwell’ programmes’.

Dr Chi Chi Ekhator, GP at AT Beacon Project in Lambeth said: ‘We all know that the food we eat plays a vital role in our health, but sadly we are seeing more and more people struggling with food poverty and food-related ill health.

‘At the Beacon Project we understand the importance of building trust in our community in innovative ways to support those who have fallen through the cracks of healthcare systems as a result of inequalities in accessing health and wellbeing support.

‘We know that change is possible, and we see the Fruit & Veg on Prescription project making a significant difference to the health of people in our community.’

Jonathan Pauling, chief executive of the Alexandra Rose Charity said it was a simple intervention that works.

‘Food isn’t getting cheaper, healthy food least of all. Our mission is to make it easier for everyone to access fresh fruit and veg in their communities.

‘It is now time for the government to act on the evidence and progress to a national roll out of trials of Fruit and Veg on Prescription as a part of their already stated commitment to the ‘Community Eatwell’ programme.’

This article first appeared in our sister title Pulse.