GPs must prescribe fuel payments to keep people out of hospital

GPs must prescribe fuel payments to keep people out of hospital

Michelle Davis

Michelle Davis, who has arthritis and severe lung disease, got her energy bill paid and said the difference was “stunning” (Photo: Supplied)

More than 1,000 sick people will get their prescription heat to keep them out of the hospital this winter.

It follows an NHS pilot project in Gloucestershire last winter involving 28 low-income patients whose condition deteriorated in the cold.

Now the scheme is being rolled out to a further 150 homes in Gloucestershire and 1,000 in Aberdeenshire and Teesside, with bills paid from this month to March.

Michelle Davis, 28, who suffers from arthritis and heart disease, said the results last year were “mind-boggling.”

“When the weather gets colder, I tend to slack off,” said the mother-of-two. “If everyone could have this experience that I had, it could really change people’s lives.”

Across the county, another 2,000 people with similar conditions became seriously ill as the trial took place from December to March, costing the NHS £6 million. Cold houses are believed to cost the NHS a total of £860 million a year – and are responsible for 10,000 deaths each winter.

Central heating thermostat

The scheme will be rolled out to more vulnerable patients after a successful pilot (Picture: PA)

‘The NHS told us they saw a benefit much faster than pills and potions,’ said study co-ordinator Dr Matt Lipson. “If we buy the energy that people need but can’t afford, they can stay warm at home and stay out of the hospital.”

Eligible people were identified by GP surgeries and NHS social prescribers who visit patients with long-term health problems at home. One beneficiary admitted last year, “I thought it was a scam. No way that they will pay my heating costs from now until the end of March.’

Another participant, Deborah, whose husband Andrew suffers from emphysema and heart disease, said it stopped them choosing between heat and food. “It’s the first winter in a long time that my husband has been warm, and that’s very important to us.”

Meanwhile, health chiefs in London have launched a pilot project to prescribe fruit and vegetables to people with chronic illnesses and mental illness.

Prof Sam Everington, from the Tower Hamlets NHS clinical assignment group, said around 120 people in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets will receive vouchers worth up to £8 a week to spend on fresh groceries in a nine-month experiment.

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