Doctors have written an open letter to Boris Johnson demanding he make a policy U-turn and provide free meals in school holidays.
More than 1,000 have put their names to it after Tories sparked fury by voting against England footballer Marcus Rashford’s school dinners plan.
They felt “compelled to act” after seeing the heartbreaking impact of hunger on poorer children during the breaks.
The letter, signed by 1,200 registered doctors, says that while politicians in Scotland, Wales and North Ireland are aiding school holiday meal supply, rejection of the proposal in England means “over a million children will go hungry”.
It came out on the day the British Medical Association also demanded that the Prime Minister reverse the “shameful” decision.
The letter says: “We see the effects of poverty on individual children … the health impacts of not eating enough … the children who can’t concentrate in school. We see the effects of malnutrition … the impact on the mental health of these children and their families.”
It continues: “We cannot stand by and watch our patients be placed in danger in this way.”
The move comes amid hopes the Government is on the brink of another major about-turn after the Manchester United star, 22, inspired a national effort to provide meals for hungry children at half-term.
Businesses, including food outlets, have shamed the Government by pledging to help the estimated 200,000 children in need.
Dr Julia Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor which organised the letter, said: “Roughly 30% of all children in the UK live in poverty.
“These children have names and faces. They are our patients. Covid-19 has pushed so many people to the brink – losing their jobs, cut off from family, struggling to make ends meet.
“The Government needs to step up and support communities, support every single child in Britain. UK doctors feel compelled to speak up because a lack of food has health consequences. Starvation kills. No child deserves to go hungry or starve.
“We will not stop our campaigning until the situation changes.”
Reports suggest more than 100 Tory MPs could vote against the policy in the Commons if Labour initiates another vote on the issue.
A Co Durham GP said: “Our village food bank has seen a one-third increase in footfall. I’ve dealt with people telling me they lost their jobs and can’t afford food or rent.
“Patients told me they’re glad the children went back to school because it eased the financial pressures.”
The British Medical Association, the registered trade union for doctors, separately demanded a policy reversal by No10.
Its board chairwoman, Prof Dame Parveen Kumar, said: “The shameful refusal to extend the school meals scheme will directly impact the most disadvantaged children.
“With half-term starting today, it beggars belief that so many are having to try to persuade the Government to reverse this decision.
“A free school meal is the main daily nutrition source for many children and can have a huge impact on their health.
“The Covid pandemic has brought many families even further hardship.
“As well as providing a meal for children whose families can’t otherwise afford it, extending the scheme may be the only access some have to a nutritional, healthy meal as opposed to harmful, unhealthy foods during school holidays.
“The Government must immediately reverse its decision as it knows full well many children may go hungry and undernourished as a result.”
Thousands of free meals were yesterday provided to children by businesses, councils and community groups on the first day of half term.
Here’s the letter in full
Dear Boris Johnson,
As UK doctors, we are horrified by the result of the Free School Meals motion in parliament this week, and are compelled to act.
The Scottish government has decided to make £10m available to pay for school meals during school holidays. The Welsh government will extend school meal provision during holidays until Easter 2021. The Northern Irish executive have decided to provide £1.3 million for school meals for the fortnight beginning 19th October.
But UK MPs have voted to reject a proposal of free school meals in England during holidays, and as a result, over a million children will go hungry.
Roughly 30% of all children in the UK live in poverty.
1.3 million children in England claimed for school meals in 2019.
The Food Foundation estimates that an additional 900,000 children in England may have sought free school meals since the start of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences. It is worsening UK poverty, and poverty has huge impacts on health.
These are the country’s statistics; these are the numbers on spreadsheets. But as UK doctors, we see the effects of poverty on individual UK children. We see the health impacts of not eating enough. We see the children who can’t concentrate in school. We see the effects of malnutrition. We see the impact on the mental health of these children and their families.
Every number on those spreadsheets represents a child.
Every child is one of our patients.
We hold responsibility for these children, and we call for free school meals to be provided throughout school holidays for every single child who needs them.
We are morally and ethically obliged to speak up as doctors.
We cannot stand by and watch our patients be placed in danger in this way.
We are calling for this Free School Meals motion to be re-visited by the government. We will not stop until this situation is properly addressed.
Dr Julia Patterson, EveryDoctor Founder and Chief Executive, and countersigned by UK doctors