NEA highlights the huge financial health costs of people suffering in cold and damp homes

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) is today [26 February] warning that health services could continue to waste well over a billion pounds a year on treating preventable cold-related illness.

The charity estimates that every local Health and Wellbeing Board in England is spending, on average, over £27,000 each day, or £10 million per year on treating patients with health conditions caused or worsened by living in cold, damp housing. Nationally, cold homes cost health services £3.6 million per day, and in the past four years alone over £5 billion of tax payers’ money has been wasted whilst 117,000 people have died needlessly due to the cold

Jenny Saunders, Chief Executive of NEA, commented: “Cold homes are a public health emergency and are dramatically reducing life chances for vulnerable people.

“As well as it being completely unacceptable that in the 21st century people are still becoming ill and dying needlessly because they live in cold homes, treating health-related conditions is also placing a shocking strain on the public purse.

“Sweden and Norway can manage to avoid these costs and prevent thousands of extra people being admitted to hospital each winter because their residents live in housing which is efficient to heat, despite colder temperatures and higher energy prices. Given we know the causes and the best cure; we can’t just shrug our shoulders and accept cold-related illness and death as inevitable. It isn’t.”

It is now almost a year since the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued welcomed guidance on how to reduce excess winter deaths and illness. However winter deaths soared last year and continue to exceed non-winter deaths by 27%. NEA believes that despite the cost and suffering caused by cold homes only half of all Health and Wellbeing Boards have even referenced action to address fuel poverty in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments. As a result, the charity is calling on all Health and Wellbeing Boards to adopt the NICE recommendations urgently and give cold homes the same attention as other significant public health concerns.

Jenny Saunders added: “NEA is also undertaking research to establish how many Health and Wellbeing Boards have adopted related indicators and the clear recommendations of the NICE guidance. We will publish the results and hope to see a dramatic increase in addressing cold homes as a local strategic priority. But as well as more local action, it is clear we also need the Government to significantly increase investment in national programmes to help vulnerable and sick individuals improve insulation or fix their heating. Refocusing current resources on low-income households will help but ultimately existing national programmes remain woefully inadequate to fulfil Government targets”.

This warning coincides with NEA’s Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, which is supported by organisations across the UK. As part of the day, the charity is urging households to seek the help that is available by calling the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

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