The cost of living crisis will add further pressure to an NHS already in jeopardy this autumn, experts have warned, as the healthcare crisis could worsen unless urgent action is taken.
Health professionals say the NHS is at risk of increasing hospital admissions as operations are canceled en masse, and growing difficulties in getting patients out if such pressures, potentially combined with a new wave of Covid and a bad flu season, are not tackled.
The warnings come after Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Sunday there needed to be a ‘real sprint’ in Whitehall to prepare for September, saying Telegraph hospitals faced ‘very serious challenges to come to the track in the fall”. .
Julian Tang, clinical virologist and honorary associate professor of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said the cost of living crisis could affect the NHS if people cannot heat their homes or have adequate food.
“Unless there is a lot of financial support from the government, I think this winter will be very difficult for a lot of people,” he said, noting that the cold can worsen conditions ranging from heart disease. to chronic lung disease and diabetes, while Covid or flu infections can also make these diseases worse.
“All of this will lead to increased admissions to the NHS for the exacerbation of these chronic illnesses due to cold, the inability to heat their homes and the inability to eat enough – with possible malnutrition, especially in children , as people have to buy cheaper and less healthy food due to rising food bills – and the added burden of returning seasonal respiratory virus infections,” he said.
Tang added that it could also become harder to get patients out, an issue that is already fueling problems including slow ambulance response times and driven by a shortage of social care and nurses.
“As I have seen in my years as a young doctor, during the winter months some patients will not want to go home – to a cold, damp house, alone, with inadequate heating and food – when they can get a warm bed in the hospital with three meals a day and helpful, friendly staff and other patients to chat with.
Tang called for increased NHS funding and financial support for households to deal with these pressures.
However, on Monday, Number 10 ruled out further support to deal with the cost of living crisis, saying the matter was up to a future prime minister.
While the acting chief executive of NHS providers, Saffron Cordery, welcomed Barclay’s focus on urgency, she underscored the scale of the problems, calling for a long-term sustainable workforce plan as soon as possible and long-term investment and reform of social systems. care.
“It’s important that the secretary of state called it that. He’s right that we need to act immediately, especially on social care,” she said. widespread across the NHS, and we know that demand for urgent and emergency care continues to exceed capacity, putting patient care and safety at risk.”
“There has been no respite over the past few months and NHS trusts are preparing for a difficult time ahead, with the potential for further waves of Covid and a bad flu season.”
Dr Naru Narayanan, president of the HCSA, the hospital doctors’ union, agreed. ‘We are extremely concerned about the impact of the dual impact of flu and Covid this winter in an NHS which is creaking under the pressure of staffing issues,’ he said.
“There is a real risk that we will see operations canceled en masse and an even bigger crisis if we do not act preemptively.”
Narayanan called for a reintroduction of enhanced cleaning regimes in hospitals, wider use of face masks and a potential expansion of the fall Covid booster vaccination programme.
At present, anyone over the age of 50 must be offered another Covid vaccine this fall, as well as healthcare staff and other specific groups such as care home residents.
As Barclay revealed plans to hire more overseas staff to address staffing issues, particularly in social care, experts stressed it was crucial to retain existing healthcare staff – and respond to concerns about the recent salary offer.
Patricia Marquis, director for England of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Mr. Barclay is right that the social care crisis in England needs to be resolved. Official figures show there is a huge problem with patients unable to return home from hospital due to the proper social care package not being in place and the severe shortage of nursing staff.
She added: ‘Ministers’ failure to tackle the workforce crisis is putting patients at risk and has left nursing with no choice but to consider an industrial strike. We will soon proceed to the vote of our members.