Fuel prescriptions will be rolled out more widely across the NHS following a successful pilot scheme in Gloucestershire last winter. The NHS will provide more than 1000 ill people with prescriptions for their heating. The scheme hopes to keep these vulnerable patients out of hospital this winter.
150 households in Gloucestershire and a further 1000 in Aberdeen and Teeside will benefit from this scheme, which will cover all heating payments from now until March 2023. It is unclear at this time whether the scheme will branch out to other parts of the United Kingdom in the future.
While the government will continue to support every household with their energy bills until April, this added support for those who suffer from conditions that worsen in cold weather will provide great reassurance and help.
Michelle Davis, a 28-year-old mother-of-two from Gloucestershire, took part in the pilot scheme last year. Michelle suffers from arthritis, a condition which can become excruciatingly painful in the cold, and a serious lung condition. She said that the results last year were “mind-blowing”.
Last winter, the NHS paid an average of £647 towards warming patients’ homes. GP surgeries and NHS social prescribers identified people who would benefit from the scheme, with some beneficiaries believing that it was too good to be true. Michelle, meanwhile, was taken aback by the results.
“When the weather turns cold, I tend to seize up and my joints ache like there’s no tomorrow. My bones feel like hot pokers and in the past, I have ended up in the hospital a few times with pneumonia, flu and pleurisy.
“We had a nice Christmas, which doesn’t happen very often, and the children have been able to have a life and be children instead of being mum’s carers. If everyone was able to have this experience I had, it could really change people’s lives.”
The wife of another participant who suffers from emphysema and heart disease has said that the scheme meant they weren’t put in a position where they had to choose between food and heating. She said:
“It’s been the first winter in a very long time that my husband has been able to be warm, and that’s a huge thing for us.’
While the pilot scheme took place last year, around 2,000 people with similar conditions to those who were receiving support in Gloucestershire fell seriously ill. Treating these patients cost the NHS around £6 million, while cold homes, in general, cost them around £860 million. In total, 10,000 deaths each year come as a result of cold weather and homes.
So, not only will this scheme help save lives but it will also save the NHS on precious funds. The scheme is being funded by the Government’s Housing Support Fund, with support from Severn Wye and Energy Systems Catapult.
Going forward, to be eligible for the scheme, patients must be diagnosed with chronic lung conditions, including:
- Chronic bronchitis.
To ensure the scheme is targeted at those who most need it, patients must also be either under 60 and in receipt of free NHS prescriptions or over 60 and struggling to pay their heating bills.
Trial Coordinator, Dr Matt Lipson, believes the evidence is there to suggest that the method of paying for people’s heating is a far better form of “treatment” than “pills and potions”. He added that if we “buy the energy people need but can’t afford, they can keep warm at home and stay out of hospital.”
Dr Hein Le Roux, from the NHS in Gloucestershire where the trial took place, believes that the scheme allows doctors to be more proactive rather than reactive. He said:
“People with conditions such as COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis are at particular risk from complications associated with living in cold housing.
The Warm Home prescription allows us to be more proactive in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our county. We want to stop people from becoming unwell and help them to stay healthy at home in housing that is safe and warm.”
The government’s Housing Support Fund will be being used for this scheme and it’s hard to imagine many more worthwhile uses for that public money than this. It’s going to save lives, ease some of the burden on the NHS and allow families in Gloucestershire, Aberdeen and Teeside to enjoy a health and pain-free Christmas.
Such preventative approaches being rolled out more widely is fantastic news for those interested in sensible approaches to public health targeted at the most vulnerable.