British health leaders have made an unprecedented appeal to the government to help the most vulnerable with the spiralling cost of energy to prevent a “public health emergency” this winter.
The NHS Confederation, one of the National Health Service’s (NHS) umbrella organisations, said in a letter on Friday that people could be forced to choose between eating or heating as bills rise, with dire health impacts.
The warning comes as the UK’s inflation rate topped 10 percent for the first time in 40 years last month, led by an unprecedented surge in consumer energy prices.
Gas and electricity bills are predicted to reach nearly triple late 2021’s levels by next summer.
“As health leaders, we are clear that unless urgent action is taken by government this will leave an indelible scar on local communities and cause a public health emergency,” the confederation’s leaders said in the letter to finance minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Zahawi only started in the role last month, after dozens of ministers resigned from the government, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce his resignation and a Conservative party leadership contest to replace him.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss is the overwhelming favourite to succeed him when the result is announced on September 5, and is likely to announce a new finance minister.
She is yet to detail how she will help people in Britain through the cost-of-living crisis, other than promising immediate tax cuts.
‘The awful choice’
In their letter, NHS Confederation Chief Executive Officer Matthew Taylor and Chair Victor Adebowale said they had made “this unprecedented intervention as they know that increase poverty will inevitably lead to significant extra demand on what are already very fragile services”.
“Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions,” they added.
“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.”
The pair urged the government to unveil “a more targeted and detailed support package for those households who need it most”, ahead of the latest consumer energy price rises being announced next week.