Senior public health figures take unusual step of warning government about energy costs

NHS leaders from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are warning of rising numbers of people falling ill and worsening health outcomes across the country, unless the government takes urgent action to limit further energy price increases.

They fear a widening of health inequalities for people living in communities with the highest levels of deprivation if individuals and families are driven further into poverty because of excessive energy costs. A decision on the energy price cap is expected on 26 August, with estimates suggesting that the cap could go as high as £4,200 by January.

NHS leaders predict that if households are not safeguarded from unaffordable energy price hikes, it will fall to local NHS and social care services to pick up the pieces, with increased hospital admissions and demand on GP surgeries, A&E departments, ambulances, care homes and other social care services.

It is highly unusual for NHS leaders to comment on energy prices but such is the strength of concern that the NHS Confederation – on behalf of NHS leaders across the country – have penned a letter to the Chancellor calling for price rises to be limited and for targeted support for those individuals and families most in need.

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, such as either heating their homes and reducing spending on food and other essentials.

They warn that if people are forced to live in cold homes and if they cannot afford nutritious food, then their health will quickly deteriorate.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, explained: “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.

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