This winter’s promised soaring energy costs will inflict worsening health for bill payers and their families, provoking a humanitarian crisis, NHS leaders warned today.
Speaking for health managers in three home nations bar Scotland, the NHS Confederation warned of rising numbers falling sick unless the government takes urgent action to limit further energy price increases.
A week today regulator Ofgem will announce its retail price cap for the autumn quarter. The early spring value is predicted to top £4,200 on an annualised basis. The current cap stands at £1,976.
Researchers at the University of York predict that 15 million people, or more than half of all British households, will be in fuel poverty this winter. In London, 47.5% will be hit, nearly 72% in northern Ireland, 58.5% on Yorkshire and Humberside.
In an open letter to chancellor Nadim Zahawi, the NHS bosses call for energy price rises to be limited, and for support to be targeted to families and individuals most in need.
A new Prime Minister will be selected by no more than 200,000 Conservative members on September 5. The disgraced departing incumbent is believed to be in Greece, enjoying his third holiday of the summer.
Liz Truss, No10’s likely next occupant, has repeatedly ruled out more targeted relief, insisting that tax cuts will benefit non-tax payers.
With bills expected to go up by 82%, they warn that the Government’s current policy of providing £400 between April and October – paid in monthly instalments – will fall far short for those most in need, even alongside the one-off payments for recipients of Universal Credit, disability benefits and the winter fuel allowance.
It is highly unusual for NHS chiefs to comment on policies outside health. Spurring the letter is a fear that frontline care staff in social care and residential homes, GP surgeries, ambulances and hospitals will suffer yet further post-Covid strain as millions of bill-payers tackle new heat-or-eat dilemmas.
“These outbreaks will strike just as the NHS is likely to experience the most difficult winter on record, said Matthew Taylor, the NHS Confederation’s chief executive, citing predicted high levels of flu, norovirus and potentially further Covid outbreaks.
“Health leaders are clear that unless urgent action is taken by the government this will cause a public health emergency,” added Taylor.
In the letter, NHS leaders say that rapidly rising energy prices, alongside other cost of living pressures, will leave individuals and families across the UK facing impossible choices.
Cold homes are already linked to around 10,000 premature deaths a year, the Confederation notes.
As well as leading to more sickness and illness, NHS leaders warn cold homes will have a major impact on mental health and wellbeing and in social care.
For the Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation, chair Jeremy Vanes commented: “The population my organisation provides mental health services for is amongst the least wealthy in the UK, with over 45 per cent of people living within the lowest income bands”.
For Mersey Care NHS Foundation trust, chair Beatrice Fraenkel added: “There is a strong correlation between rising energy prices and the health and well-being of the communities we serve and belong to.
“In turn this has a significant bearing on the increased demands placed on our health services.
“If people are unable to afford to adequately heat their homes or eat well, they are increasingly likely to fall ill and require the care of the NHS which is already under significant pressure. Whilst we as employers are doing all we can to mitigate against the situation this crisis is proving a real challenge for our staff personally and professionally.”
“This unprecedented move from health and care leaders in England hammers home the fact that the rising cost of living is a national emergency”, said Katie Schmuecker, principal policy advisor at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“It’s morally indefensible that already people in some parts of the UK die years earlier than they should, and we cannot allow this injustice to be made worse this winter.
“Over 7 million households were already going without at least one essential like food in May. The number of people going without common necessities will become an unmanageable risk if nothing is done.”