Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation (pictured) said health bosses were forced to get involved in the energy bill crisis because it is ‘absolutely clear’ that fewer people being able to heat their homes ‘will drive additional demand’
The UK faces a ‘humanitarian crisis’ this winter as people sacrifice their health to manage soaring bills, NHS leaders have warned.
In an unusually political move, the NHS Confederation has called on the Government to provide more help to poor families with the cost of living crisis.
The group — led by Tony Blair’s former chief adviser — said tens of thousands of people could die because they can’t heat their homes.
It has written to the Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Health Secretary Steve Barclay and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying the current £400 handout for 29million households is not enough.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said more elderly people will die as their homes turn cold and some will go hungry in an effort to afford energy.
Not only will this cause a ‘public health emergency’, but it will also pile pressure on the NHS, which is already in the middle of a crisis, the group claims.
Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4: ‘If more people are in fuel poverty, more people are having to choose between eating and heating their homes, that will lead to more demand on the health service.
‘And that is in the context of a winter which I think everybody recognises is going to be one of the worst, if not the most challenging, the NHS has ever faced.’
‘It is a major public health issue,’ Mr Taylor added.
The NHS Confederation has repeatedly pushed for harsher and longer Covid restrictions to protect the NHS – as recently as April.
The NHS Confederation explained that those who cannot afford to heat their home, buy nutritious food or cook a hot meal will see their health ‘quickly deteriorate’. This will cause a rise in the number of annual deaths linked to cold homes – which already hits 10,000 per year
The letter stats that a growing number of people will see their physical and mental health deteriorate unless the Government takes ‘urgent action’ to limit ‘excessive’ energy price rises.
Mr Taylor said 10,000 deaths are recorded in a normal year among Britons struggling to heat their homes — mainly the elderly, young and immunocompromised.
But this figure ‘will increase’, as energy bills are due to rise by an average of £2,000 in October.
The NHS will be forced to ‘pick up the pieces’ of increased demand for GP appointments, emergency departments, ambulances and social care.
The NHS Confederation, which speaks for the healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, noted it was ‘highly unusual’ for health service leaders to comment on energy prices.
A decision on the energy price cap is expected on August 26, with latest estimates suggesting the average annual energy bill could surpass £4,200 by January.
The letter states: ‘We are urging you to take urgent and direct additional action to support those who need it most as we approach winter.
‘We have been asked to convene this letter on an issue where NHS leaders, would not usually intervene – but they feel they can no longer stay silent.
‘Their starting point is that they are already seeing huge suffering in our local communities because of the cost of living crisis.
‘With energy prices set to rise, they fear that many people will face the awful choice of skipping meals to heat their homes or having to put up with living in cold, damp, conditions.
‘From a health perspective, this will inevitably lead to more illness up and down the country.
‘It will lead to worse health outcomes, including damaging children’s life chances, as well as exacerbating health inequalities that have already been widened as a result of the pandemic.’
The NHS bosses explained that those who cannot afford to heat their home, buy nutritious food or cook a hot meal will see their health ‘quickly deteriorate’.
This will cause a rise in the number of annual deaths linked to cold homes – which already stands at 10,000 a year.
Cold conditions are known to thicken the blood, which increases rates of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.
Being cold also makes it harder to fight off infections, which causes coughs and lung conditions to develop into more serious conditions, such as pneumonia.
People with heart and lung conditions, the over-65s and young children are most at risk of the cold.
Additionally, respiratory diseases, asthma, cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and falls become more common.
And poor mental health, depression and suicide rates increase.
NHS England already spends £1.3billion per year treating preventable conditions caused by cold and damp homes.
Additionally, a lack of cash causes people to shun meals altogether or ditch healthy food in favour of cheaper calorie-dense and nutrient-poor options.
This puts people at risk of developing obesity and diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
A rise in poor health will also have wider impacts – with fewer people able to go to school and work, health service leaders warned.
NHS Confederation said its primary motivation in penning the letter was to ‘prevent a public health emergency’ and a ‘huge increase’ in demand on primary, community, mental health and social care.
‘As health leaders, we are clear that unless urgent action is taken by government this will leave an indelible scar on local communities and cause a public health emergency,’ the letter states.
NHS Confederation did not set out specific proposals.
But the group called for the Government to ‘safeguard’ households that can’t absorb energy prices, which are predicted to leave two-thirds in fuel poverty by January.
Ministers should ‘set out a more targeted and detailed support package’ for those most in need before the new energy price cap is announced next week, the letter states.
Latest NHS England data for July shows that more than 29,000 sickened people waited 12 hours at A&E units last month (yellow lines) — four times more than the NHS target and up by a third on June, which was the previous record. Meanwhile, the proportion of patients seen within four hours — the timeframe 95 per cent of people are supposed to be seen within — dropped to 71 per cent last month (red line), the lowest rate logged since records began in 2010
Separate ambulance figures show the average wait for heart attack and stroke victims surpassed 59 minutes for only the second time ever (red bars). The yellow line shows the number of category two calls, which hit 379,460
The group said: ‘The NHS is already facing what many are predicting to be one of the toughest winters on record – due to already high demand on health services combined with predicted high levels of flu, norovirus and further Covid outbreaks.
‘We believe that failing to restrict energy price rises will make the situation worse by placing front-line services and staff under intolerable pressure.’
The letter states that the NHS has already been forced to help its staff by providing on-site food banks, salary advances and free school uniform for the children of staff.
‘Put simply, we haven’t faced a situation like this in decades,’ the medics warned.
They added: ‘With bills expected to go up by 82 per cent, we believe the Government’s current policy of providing £400 (paid in monthly instalments) is not going to be nearly sufficient, even alongside the one-off payments for recipients of Universal Credit, disability benefits and the winter fuel allowance.
‘Failure to go beyond this risks a public health emergency and this must be avoided at all costs.’
Mr Taylor penned the letter with NHS Confederation chair Lord Victor Adebowale.
Mr Taylor said NHS Confederation was forced to get involved in the energy bill crisis because it is ‘absolutely clear’ that fewer people being able to heat their homes ‘will drive additional demand’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s our duty to flag the fact that it looked as though we could be heading for additional demand on a system which is already, even in the middle of August, finding it very difficult to meet demand, and facing an extremely difficult winter.’
Challenged on whether the NHS letter to ministers is ‘overtly political’, Mr Taylor said: ‘It’s not our job to tell the Government what to do.
‘It’s our responsibility to be clear about what is likely to be happening in terms of health needs and the capacity of the NHS to cope.’
He added that the NHS Confederation is speaking on behalf of hundreds of health leaders across the UK.
‘We’re making this call because leaders have asked us to make this because they can see the growing problems in their community and amongst lower paid staff.
‘And they are concerned about the fact that they’ll be facing additional demands, more people who felt sick during winter, and it’s our responsibility to speak about that.
‘It is a major public health issue.’
The warning comes as the NHS England is already in crisis.
The number of people in England on the waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit a record 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight are now stuck in the backlog
NHS cancer data shows only six in 10 people started their first cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral in July — the worst performance ever reported and well below the 85 per cent target
The number of people waiting list for routine hospital treatment jumped to a new record of 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight people are stuck in the backlog.
Meanwhile, latest data shows more than 29,000 people queued for at least half a day at A&E units last month — four times more than the NHS target and up by a third on June, which was the previous record.
The share of patients seen within four hours — the timeframe 95 per cent are supposed to be treated — dropped to 71 per cent last month, the lowest rate logged since records began in 2010.
Separate ambulance figures show the average wait for heart attack and stroke victims surpassed 59 minutes for only the second time ever. And waits for the most serious 999 calls hit a record high of nine-and-a-half minutes.
Charities have also warned the country is in a ‘devastating cancer recession’, as performance against key metrics plummeted to new lows. More than 10,000 people were waiting three months or more to start cancer treatment by the end of July, the shock figures show.
Doctors say the figures show the NHS is suffering a winter crisis in summer, and that the crisis is expected to be ‘much worse’ during the colder months when the health service typically comes under more pressure.
The NHS says the current crisis is being driven by so-called bed blockers but hospitals are also grappling with record backlogs, staff shortages, excess admissions due to the heatwave and the residual effects of a recent spike in Covid.
Health Secretary Mr Barclay this month admitted that the NHS faces a triple whammy of Covid, flu and the cost of living crisis.
He said ministers face a ‘real sprint’ to prepare the NHS for the months ahead and promised to relax recruitment rules and launch a hiring blitz to get the health service ready for the cold months, when it faces extra pressures.
Under Mr Barclay’s plans, NHS managers may be sent as far as India and the Philippines to bolster the worldwide recruitment drive, which he said was essential to ensure social care services are maintained ahead of a winter ‘sprint’, The Times reports.