Doctors prescribe patients heating as energy bills soar

doctors prescribe patients heating as energy bills soar
Patients prescribed heating as energy bills soarfizkes - Getty Images

Some low-income patients in the UK have been prescribed heating by their doctors under a new health trial aimed at reducing the number of hospital admissions amid the UK's worsening cost-of-living crisis.

The Warm Home Prescription pilot paid to heat the homes of 28 low-income patients to avoid the cost of hospital care if they became more ill, and the trial achieved such good results that it is being expanded to 1,150 homes.

Michelle Davis, who has arthritis as well as a serious pulmonary illness, had her energy bills paid for and told the BBC that the difference was "mind-blowing". The mum-of-two took part in the trial back in December 2021 and March 2022 when she couldn't afford to heat her home or charge her mobility scooter.

"When the weather turns cold, I tend to seize up," she explained. "It's very painful, my joints ache and my bones are like hot pokers."

Recalling what life had been like before the scheme started, Davis said she spent most of winter 2020 in bed trying to keep warm, but was later admitted to hospital with pneumonia and pleurisy.

doctors prescribe patients heating as energy bills soar
Olga Rolenko - Getty Images

But thanks to The Warm Home Prescription scheme, things have changed for Davis. "You're not stuck in bed, you're not going to hospital, my children were able to have a life, they were able to go out and play and get cold," she said, welling up as she described being able to warm her children's pyjamas on radiators. "I was able to be a Mum," Davis went on. "And my kids could be kids, not just carers."

"If everyone was able to have the experience I had, it could really change people's lives," she added.

Energy bills have soared as of late, in part because the war in Ukraine has reduced supplies of Russian gas. As a result, the government stepped in to cap prices, but bills for a typical household will still go up to £3,000 from April 2023.

The effects of the cost-of-living crisis are already clear, but things are likely to get worse. Research carried out before the cost-of-living crisis found that cold homes cost the NHS England £860m a year, noting that 10,000 people die every year due having a cold home.

It's why schemes like The Warm Home Prescription are more important than ever. "If we buy the energy people need but can't afford, they can keep warm at home and stay out of hospital," said Dr Matt Lipson, who helped design the pilot programme. "That would target support to where it's needed, save money overall and take pressure off the health service."

"The NHS were telling us they were seeing a benefit much more quickly than pills and potions," Dr Lipson added. "It was taking days, not weeks and months."

If you're worried about your finances, you may also be entitled to receive the government's 'cost of living payment', which you can find more details on here. If you're struggling with your bills, you can also speak to a number of charities – including Turn2us and the Independent Food Aid Network – set up to help those during the cost of living crisis, as well as debt-management charities like Step Change.

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