Asthma forced patients to choose between inhalers and heating as cost of living rises

The cost of living increase is forcing patients to avoid buying life-saving medication and equipment, as staff warn the crisis is putting additional pressure on an already stretched NHS.

Clinicians across the country, speaking with The Independentsaid they were already seeing the impact of the rising cost of living on patients, with asthma patients putting off buying new inhalers because they cannot afford to do so.

NHS staff have said the crisis will drive huge pressure on the health service, particularly during the winter.

Rebecca Shearer, a senior GP nurse in Newcastle, said: “One thing I see quite regularly, for example, is if a patient has diabetes, they’ll get the prescription paid for, but if a patient has asthma, that’s not something that’s funded. I am already [running] into problems where people have poorly controlled asthma because they can’t afford the prescription. That would be [a situation] that would turn up in the emergency department.”

She added: “I’ve seen patients in a very short space of time, within a two-month period, who all came in to ask for painkillers, and when we explored why their pain was getting worse it was because they were cold all day. They were sitting in cold houses, and when I asked them about the heating they said they were wary of putting it on.”

The news comes after the government was criticized for failing to introduce legislation to tackle the cost of living crisis earlier this week.

Senior health visitor Moira Dawson, representing the Unite union, said nurses were already seeing new babies going back home to households that cannot afford heating or “adequate” food, and in some cases are unable to afford special baby formula.

Ms Dawson said she was seeing more families falling into the “vulnerable” category, as the cost of living leaves them struggling to pay for food and heating, meaning community services that are already “stretched beyond capacity” are likely to struggle even more with demand .

Charities across the country, led by organization National Voices, have launched a report calling for the government to put in place additional protection for those with long-term conditions and disabilities, fearing that the health of vulnerable people is being put at risk by the current crisis.

Sarah Sweeney, head of policy at National Voices, said: “Our 190 members work with a variety of different conditions and communities, connecting us with the experiences of millions of people. What we are hearing consistently is the appalling impact the cost of living crisis is having on the lives of people who suffer from ill health.”

National charities are also calling on the NHS to ensure that patients are aware of what they’re entitled to, such as support through the NHS low-income scheme.

According to the most recent analysis, the number of people with access to the scheme dropped sharply during the pandemic. The rate has been declining year on year since 2015-16, though last year saw the biggest drop.

Harriet Edwards, head of policy and external affairs at Asthma and Lung UK, said: “As a charity, we are deeply concerned that the cost of living crisis will push more people with asthma under the poverty line, and it is shocking that some are now having to make a stark choice between eating, paying bills, and being able to afford essential medication like inhalers.”

Research from Asthma and Lung UK showed that nine out of 10 people on low incomes struggled to pay for their asthma prescriptions, and the charity has called for prescription charges to be suspended for those with long-term conditions.

Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said: “Community nurses visiting people in the home are already seeing the cumulative impacts of the increased living costs, as they work with individuals and families over time and often see multiple generations of the same Familia.”

A government spokesperson said: “We recognize the pressures people are facing with the rising cost of living, and we are taking action to support households – cutting fuel duty, raising the threshold at which people start to pay national insurance, and cutting taxes for the lowest-paid workers on universal credit so they can keep more of what they earn. The health and social care secretary has been clear that tackling health disparities is a priority.”

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