A pilot project in Sunderland found GP and outpatient visits reduced by a third after patients’ homes were made warmer and cheaper to heat.
Family doctors prescribing double glazing and loft insulation for patients living in cold, damp homes can transform lives and cut down the huge sums spent by the NHS on cold-related ill health.
Colds are Britain’s bane, with 18,000 premature deaths due to the weather last year and winter itself costing the nHS £1.5bn annually, the piloted project has instilled hope in experts.
“We’re able to heat the whole house for the first time in god knows how long, it’s unbelievable,” said Margaret Boulton, who took part in the trial. Her husband John suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious lung condition made worse by cold, damp conditions. “Last year he had been into hospital five or six times. He was really poorly and we had a terrible Christmas. So far this year – touch wood – he’s not been in hospital once and his health is so much better. He’s much happier in himself because he’s not suffering.”
“As a country we need to be ashamed of the excess winter deaths in the UK. It is truly shocking,” said Dr Tim Ballard, vice chair at the Royal College of GPs. “This ‘boiler on prescription’ scheme needs to be seen as a wake-up call for commissioners. The scheme is good for people, good for the NHS and, to top it all, good for the environment. The big challenge now is to replicate this across the UK.”
The study occurred following reports by a social housing and sustainability group known as Gentoo, who found that tenants felt happier when their homes were made more energy efficient.
“We heard anecdotally that people were feeling better, both in their health and in having more money in their pockets to do things that made them happier,” said Gentoo’s Paul Burns, who led the pilot.”
According to Derek Lickorish, chair of the government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group: “This is proof positive that warmer homes cut the costs to the NHS and transform people’s lives: saving £30 per month is a life-changing sum of money for many vulnerable customers.”
The idea has received support from NHS authorities and housing societies, whether the scheme will be deployed on a national scale remains to be seen.