The country is facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ with rising costs constituting a ‘huge threat to health’, as increasing prices for petrol put community services at risk, NHS leaders have warned.
According to a survey conducted by the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, as many as two-thirds of NHS community health service leader are extremely concerned about the impact of increased fuel costs on their ability to recruit new staff and retain existing staff.
The results – published on Friday (26 August) – also revealed nine-in-10 are extremely or moderately concerned about their ability to deliver all services due to staff shortages related to recent increases in the cost of fuel.
Those who responded to the survey estimated that, without a nationally agreed uplift to reimbursement rates, on average 8% of their staff could leave in the next year.
The Confederation had also previously called on the Government to take urgent action to limit further hikes to energy prices for fear of worsening health outcomes across the country.
The NHS Confederation warned that driving families further into poverty could risk a widening of health inequalities and worsening health outcomes for people in the most deprived areas.
In a letter, health leaders highlighted in particular people’s health will deteriorate quickly if they cannot afford to eat healthily and heat their homes, adding to the already high number of annual deaths associated with cold homes – estimated at around 10,000 a year.
Figures show that without further measure, and taking into account the £400 rebate, fuel poverty rates will reach 55% from January, with half of UK households living in fuel poverty.
Without safeguarding from unaffordable energy prices, it will fall to local NHS and social care services to cover the consequences, leaders warned, with increased demand on GP surgeries and across trusts.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The country is facing a humanitarian crisis. Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions.’
This in turn could lead to ‘outbreaks of illness and sickness around the country’, worsening health inequalities and children’s life chances, he added.
‘These outbreaks will strike just as the NHS is likely to experience the most difficult winter on record. NHS leaders have made this unprecedented intervention as they know that fuel poverty will inevitably lead to significant extra demand on what are already very fragile services,’ he warned.
NHS leaders called for a more targeted and detailed support package for households that need it most, ahead of next week’s decision on caps.
They added that the Government’s current policy – providing £400 between April and October in monthly instalments – will fall far short for those most in need, even alongside one-off payments for those on universal credit, disability benefits and winter fuel allowance.
Katie Schmuecker, principal policy advisor at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: ‘The rising price of essentials are a huge threat to health. 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.’
Beatrice Fraenkel, chair of Mersey Care NHS Foundation trust said: ‘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 comes as the NHS prepares for what is predicted to be one of the toughest winters on record, with high demand combined with potential Covid outbreaks and anticipated high levels of flu and norovirus.