Cost of living crisis: NHS to face ‘challenging winter’ as energy costs rise, warn healthcare leaders

Rising energy costs could “wipe out large parts of the NHS budget”, with healthcare leaders warning this winter will be “particularly challenging”.

The cost of living crisis is a growing concern as winter approaches, with energy bills soaring and basic essentials rising in price.

The crisis is set to affect households across the UK, as well as care homes, businesses - and even the NHS.

The cost of living crisis is a growing concern as winter approaches
The cost of living crisis is a growing concern as winter approaches
The cost of living crisis is a growing concern as winter approaches

Rory Deighton, senior acute lead at the NHS Confederation, said NHS leaders have been “warning for some time” that higher than expected inflation, including rising energy costs, is “wiping out large parts of the NHS budget”.

He added: “This isn’t an abstract problem as the gap in funding from rising inflation will either have to be made up by fewer staff being employed, longer waiting times for care or other areas of patient care being cut back.”

Mr Deighton said new Prime Minister Liz Truss must provide “a top-up” in this year’s autumn Budget or any emergency Budget they hold to make up the shortfall.

He explained that the NHS needs at least £4 billion  to make up for inflation during this year alone, and “that is before we face a winter of even higher inflation”.

“A failure to properly compensate the NHS for inflation will only heighten pressure on our health service as we move towards a winter that we know will be particularly challenging this year,” he added.

‘The Government should take heed of the health service warnings’

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the cost of living crisis is the “latest calamity to harm people’s health” and the Government “should take heed of the health service warnings about the difficulties it will face this winter”.

She explained that health chiefs have warned they will have to pay for rising gas and electricity costs by employing fewer staff or cutting back on some areas of patient care, as well as concerns over losing staff who cannot afford car fuel.

“All of this will impact on patient care, with longer waiting lists for both hospital and community care,” Ms Power added.

She said the Patients Association has “very real fears” that this winter “some of the poorest in society, already reeling from the pandemic, will face destitution and worsening health”.

“We know poverty and poor housing makes you ill,” Ms Power added. “If people who need equipment to help them live healthy lives can’t afford to run it, if people can’t heat their homes, and can’t afford nutritious meals, we will see people’s physical and mental health worsen and the NHS may not have the capacity to care for them."

This comes as  a study published in the BMJ suggested that patients being treated by burned-out doctors may face additional risks when they receive care.

The new review found that doctors experiencing burnout are twice as likely to be involved in patient safety incidents such as medication errors and “suboptimal care”.

Patients are also less likely to be satisfied with the treatment provided by burned-out doctors, with the link between burnout and patient safety incidents being highest among younger doctors and emergency medicine physicians.

Dr Kit Latham, 35, an A&E doctor in London, said healthcare staff “are having to face the same cost-of-living pressures as everyone else”, with stress about affording energy bills and food costs “making their mental and physical burnout much worse”.