GPs and other healthcare professionals in one part of the country will be able to prescribe a heating plan to support patients at risk, which includes paying their bills.
Between November 2022 and March 2023, up to 150 people in the NHS Gloucestershire area will have their energy bills paid for through the Warm Home Prescription scheme for patients with cold-sensitive health conditions who are struggling to afford rising costs.
Patients with chronic lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, or emphysema are eligible for the scheme, which is piloted by the One Gloucestershire integrated care board. They must be over the age of 60 and struggling to pay their heating bill, or under the age of 60 and receiving free NHS prescriptions.
According to One Gloucestershire, this initiative could cut GP workload and reduce NHS spending on treating people experiencing real harm due to living in cold homes.
Dr Matt Lipson, consumer insight lead at Energy Systems Catapult, which partly funds the scheme, said: ‘Living in cold homes puts millions with health conditions at risk of real harm.
‘It costs the NHS over £860 million each year and causes 10,000 deaths every winter. And it’s set to become an even bigger challenge this year as energy prices rise and household budgets fall.’
Apart from paying the heating bills, the new scheme also involves supporting people with further energy efficiency information and signposting to other relevant services that could help.
The first local trial of the scheme took place last winter in Gloucestershire. According to One Gloucestershire, this ‘practical solution’ had an ‘immediate positive impact’, and it made patients feel healthier, warmer, and less stressed about the bills.
Recently, Pulse reported on GPs warning that some of their most vulnerable patients are not taking medicines because the cost-of-living crisis have left them unable to afford prescription costs.
Previously, one GP told Pulse his practice has forecasted a £50,000 increase in costs over the next year on the back of uncapped energy costs and rising prices for consumable items.