NHS bosses make rare appeal to ministers as UK faces ‘public health emergency’

Leaders warn that unless the Government takes action on rising energy prices, fuel poverty will put additional pressure on an already overwhelmed NHS.

19 August 2022

NHS bosses have made an “unprecedented” appeal to the Government to take action on rising energy prices as the UK faces a “public health emergency”.

The NHS Confederation sent a letter to ministers on Friday, warning that surging costs mean people will have to choose between skipping meals to heat their homes or living in cold and damp conditions this winter.

Health leaders said they are concerned that widespread fuel poverty will increase the high number of annual deaths associated with cold homes – estimated at 10,000 – and add pressure to an already overwhelmed health service.

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor 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 and widen health inequalities, worsen children’s life chances, and leave an indelible scar on local communities.”

Mr Taylors said these outbreaks of illness 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 added.

“Health leaders are clear that, unless urgent action is taken by the Government, this will cause a public health emergency.” 

It comes as energy regulator Ofgem is set to raise the cap on energy prices from October, leading household bills to soar.

The Government has faced calls to freeze bills or provide more support to households, but ministers have said no action will be taken until a new prime minister is in place on September 5.

Challenged on whether the NHS letter to ministers is “overtly political”, Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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,” he said.

“It is a major public health issue.”

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