Cost of living: Soaring bills damaging people’s health, say medicson June 9, 2022 at 2:50 am

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Experts warn health inequalities will be widened by the surge in the cost of living.

Laura Brant

Rises in the cost of living are already having a negative impact of people’s health, health professionals warn.

BBC News has been told of people skipping meals or cutting back on medication, because of money worries.

The Royal College of Nursing says people are having to make heart-wrenching choices that compromise their health and wellbeing.

Along with GPs and hospital doctors, they warn health inequalities between rich and poor risk becoming worse.

Laura Brant, 28, has already had to make some tough choices about a treatment keeping her alive.

Having lived with kidney disease since the age of seven, she has already had two kidney transplants – and now needs another.

Laura is dependent on a dialysis machine to carry out the filtering process usually performed by the kidneys.

Without it, she could be dead in a week.

‘Make choices’

Laura was having dialysis at home – but the machine used so much electricity and water the bills started to mount rapidly.

“I’d say that it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, really, with the cost of running the dialysis machine, the water it uses, the electric,” she says.

“And it was adding to my anxiety, like, ‘How am I going to pay to do this treatment every month?'”

So Laura switched her dialysis away from the convenience and accessibility of home to a hospital.

At first, this meant a three-hour round trip, three days a week, from her North Yorkshire home to the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle.

She has since moved to a centre 20 minutes away but this has also meant switching to an entirely new medical team – and it has not been easy.

“I’m sick of having to make choices,” Laura says. “And they have to be the right choices.

“If not, it’s my health that’s going to be affected at the end of the line – and I don’t want to be any more poorly.”

Chronic stress

At Grey Road Surgery, in north Liverpool, one of the most deprived parts of the city, Dr Janet Bliss and her team have seen how poverty affects their patients’ health.

Dr Janet Bliss

“For us in this part of Liverpool, it’s been a significant issue for a number of years,” she says.

“The kind of constant worrying about how you’re going to pay the bills, how you’re going to feed yourself, how you’re going to pay for your kids’ clothes, takes a toll that we could probably all relate to.

“However, it’s more than that. It’s not just mental health and wellbeing – it’s also your physical health.

“Living in that kind of chronic stress does really bad things to your blood pressure and to your metabolism and can lead to illnesses like diabetes.

“Also, not being able to access nutritious foods makes it really difficult to keep yourself well physically.”

‘Facing eviction’

Dr Bliss says the recent price rises are making a bad situation worse.

“It’s definitely noticeable that we are getting increased patients on the list who are calling up – no food in the house is a common thing, not able to pay the bills, people facing eviction, people actually acknowledging that they’re going to lose their homes.

“We’re seeing people limiting the amount of meals they will eat in a week, consciously planning to miss meals.

“We’re seeing people deciding to not to collect medications, not to pay for prescription items.

“We’re seeing the impact on transport costs, and also things like data for your phone in order to access vital services that will support their health.

“Also, those cost of living impacts are only just filtering through and people who are on the lowest incomes will be feeling them now.

“But as the months go by, I think that’s going to bite harder on people who previously would not have considered themselves on low incomes.”

‘Impacting care’

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen says nurses themselves are affected.

“Many are choosing between heating and eating,” she says, “and struggling to afford the petrol they need to drive to their patients’ homes, potentially impacting care.

“The situation is becoming grave for many. The UK government can, and must, do more to ensure this crisis doesn’t worsen the health inequalities we face in this country.”

Royal College of Physicians president Dr Andrew Goddard says some of his respiratory-medicine colleagues are hearing of patients choosing to turn off oxygen supplies to save money.

“Respiratory disease disproportionately affects those least able to afford to improve their social circumstances,” he says.

“It seems likely the cost of living crisis will widen this disparity further.”

‘Good start’

In Darlington, a mobile food club is helping people continue to eat healthily despite rising prices.

Marzena Domoracka

Organised by The Bread And Butter Thing, it redistributes excess food from supermarkets and other suppliers.

Members pay £7.50 a week for at least £35 worth of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cereals, grains and pulses.

Mother-of-four Marzena Domoracka finds the scheme invaluable.

Her five-month-old son will soon be weaning on to solid food.

“At the moment, I have to count every penny to make sure I’ve got enough for the nappies, for the cream, for the wipes,” Marzena says.

“This saving will allow me to buy him some better veg and better fruit so he can actually have a good start in life.

“Without it, I don’t know what I would do.”

A spokesman for the department of health and social care in England says the government is taking action to support households, including cutting fuel duty, raising the threshold at which people start to pay National Insurance and freezing NHS prescription charges.

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