Cost of living: soaring food and energy costs could worsen impact of winter bugs and ‘put extra strain on NHS’

The cost of living crisis could exacerbate winter viruses and bugs this year causing more people across the UK to become vulnerable to illness, health experts have warned.

With food and energy bills rising people are having to decide between heating and eating, and the cold weather could aggravate underlying conditions, such as those affecting the lungs, heart and blood circulation.

Dr Shehla Imtiaz-Umer, a GP in Derby, said there is “an expectation” that winter viral illnesses “will be worsened due to the cost of living crisis” and high energy prices will particularly impact “the poorest in our society who are already facing significant health inequalities”.

The crisis could also cause mental health to worsen due to the “increased pressure” that individuals and families are facing, Dr Imtiaz-Umer added.

She explained that being well nourished is “essential” for recovery and if people are not able to afford to eat, this will impact both the frequency and severity of illnesses due to underlying nutritional deficiencies.

The cost of living crisis could exacerbate winter viruses and bugs this yearThe cost of living crisis could exacerbate winter viruses and bugs this year
The cost of living crisis could exacerbate winter viruses and bugs this year

Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist for Chemist Click, echoed health concerns during the cost of living crisis this winter.

He said people may find it difficult to afford essentials, with healthy food being particularly expensive, and diets affect people’s immune systems.

Mr Kanani echoed Dr Imtiaz-Umer’s comments that not getting the correct nutrients will “hamper” your recovery process, and he said this “could see many people hospitalised, putting extra strain on the NHS”.

People may then also be off sick from work for longer which could have a negative impact on the economy, he added.

Although Mr Kanani said that while “this seems irrelevant speaking in the context of people’s welfare” it is also “important to note that a further downturn in the economy is likely to push us into a recession, which will likely cause the existing problem to get worse”.

It’s not just food that can play a part in illness and recovery, as Mr Kanani explained that for those that contract a viral infection, a warm environment is an important part of the recovery process.

He said: “With energy prices set to increase drastically, people will simply not be able to afford to keep warm. While healthy individuals are likely to make a recovery, it is likely to take longer to recover.

“For those that are vulnerable, this could lead to secondary illness and be detrimental to health.”

‘The earlier you get the jabs the better’

Concerns are mounting this winter over a potential ‘twindemic’, caused by both Covid-19 and the flu virus circulating during the colder months.

Tens of millions of people in the UK are being urged to get flu and Covid vaccines as soon as possible, amid concerns of a resurgence in flu infections combined with a major wave of coronavirus.

Mr Kanani noted that the cost of living crisis will also exacerbate a potential ‘twindemic’, by pushing many people into the vulnerable category, who may not qualify for a free flu jab.

Mr Kanani explained that this time of year, along with “lower levels of natural immunity from last winter due to limited co-mixing”, has caused “a bit of a worry” as a “challenging winter” approaches.

The pharmacist said he believes that the cost of living crisis is a “major concern which appears to have been overlooked”.

“The earlier you get the jabs the better, especially if you are in the vulnerable category,” Mr Kanani added.