The Warm Home Prescription: scheme sees participants reduce their GP visits
The scheme was independently funded by BP
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A trial that paid the heating bills of some NHS patients to help with their energy bills cut GP appointments, researchers have found.
The pilot scheme also found "emerging evidence" that those taking part needed fewer prescriptions and access to out-of-hours services.
In the winter of 2022, the BP-funded, independently-run scheme in England and Scotland saw 823 vulnerable and low-income patients have an assessment to estimate how much their heating would cost from September 2022 and March 2023. Then the full amount was credited to their energy account.
The Warm Home Prescription study began with a very small trial of 28 people between December 2021 and March 2022. It was expanded last winter to 486 households in Aberdeen, 292 in Middlesbrough, 23 in Gloucestershire and 22 in London.
Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University found significant improvements in quality of life as well as reduced use of the GP compared with previous years. Those taking part also had money to spend on other essentials such as food.
Before the warm home scheme, 53% of participants were only heating their home sometimes, rarely or never and 93% of participants said they place greater importance on being warm.
Most patients had heated their homes more than in previous years, half of them by at least two degrees.
As a result of the trial, 79% of recipients found it had a positive impact on their physical health and 70% said that it improved their mental health.
However, the researchers also said it was too soon to say if a wider scheme would benefit health and save the NHS money.
The NHS spends more than £540m treating people living in cold homes in England alone.
Dr Rose Chard of the Energy Systems Catapult, which designed the scheme, said the findings "are clear".
"Recipients stay warm, well, and out of hospital," she said.
As to what happens next, she is hoping that health trusts, government, Housing Associations, and energy companies take on board that it is possible to achieve results very quickly with a relatively small amount of spending.
"We have an opportunity to create a service from the ground up that reshapes how we deliver proactive care for vulnerable households," she added.
A UK government spokesperson said it had been "providing unprecedented support to families" last winter with "nearly £40bn to cover around half a typical household's energy bill".
The spokesperson added that vulnerable households may also be able to get the Warm Home discount, which is expected to support more than three million families this winter.
Scotland's Energy Minister, Gillian Martin, said: "I look forward to seeing the trial findings and recommendations to feed in and inform our support already provided through our Energy Efficiency delivery programmes."