NHS heating trial expanded following successful pilot

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Wednesday 23rd November 2022

A health trial, which involves paying for heating for at-risk individuals, has been expanded following a successful pilot. As part of the new initiative, more than 1,100 households in Gloucestershire, Aberdeen and Teesside, will receive financial assistance to keep warm this winter. The newly expanded programme comes after positive feedback from a pilot experiment in Gloucestershire last winter. The trial ran from November 2021 to March 2022 and involved 28 low-income households. 

Living in cold homes increases the risk of illness and severe symptoms in people who suffer from diseases and conditions that get worse during the winter. The aim is to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and enable more people to get through the winter without needing treatment. Michelle Davis took part in the initial pilot project and said that her experience was “mind-blowing.” The mum-of-two suffers from pulmonary illness and arthritis. She relies on a mobility scooter to get around and said that when the temperature drops, she seizes up, her joints and muscles ache and her bones feel “like hot pokers.” During the trial, Michelle had her heating bills paid and the cost of charging her scooter covered. Usually, during the winter, she would worry about her health and the cost of keeping her home warm, but the experience was totally different. She got emotional talking about being able to be a mum and watching her teenage daughters enjoy being children rather than carers. She added that Christmas was extra special and said that it was incredible to be able to live life without worrying about getting cold or having to go into hospital.

Michelle was admitted to hospital for treatment for pleurisy and pneumonia during winter 2020 and she said that she spent long periods in best most days trying to stay warm. Taking part in the pilot was life changing. While Michelle was warm and happy at home that winter, more than 2,000 people in Gloucestershire with similar health issues needed hospital care. The estimated cost was approximately £6 million.

Local GP, Dr Hein le Roux, took part in the pilot project and said that it had incredible benefits for patients. The scheme saved a lot of money and meant that doctors had a reduced workload. The programme also boosted Dr le Roux’s morale, as he said that it was rewarding to be able to help people, rather than to have to wait until they develop severe symptoms and need treatment. Studies suggest that cold homes cost the NHS more than £860 million per year and cause around 10,000 deaths, but the figures are expected to rise due to the cost of living. The cost of heating our homes has increased dramatically in the last 12 months and the price cap will rise again in the months ahead. There are real concerns that many people won’t be able to stay warm at home this winter.

Michelle, a disabled mum on benefits, said that her bills have already gone up to over £250 per month this year and she has been trying to save in case she isn’t eligible for the expanded trial this winter. She is worried about the cost of energy, but said that to even have one year off last year made a huge difference to her physical and mental health. She added that if everyone who was at risk could have this opportunity, it could “really change people’s lives.” The pilot scheme was delivered by Energy Systems Catapult in partnership with NHS Gloucestershire and Severn Wye, a local energy charity. NHS social prescribers identified at-risk individuals and a group of 28 people was invited to participate in the project. 
The pilot was so successful that this year’s programme has been expanded to 150 houses in Gloucestershire plus just over 1,000 in Aberdeen and Teesside.

Dr Matt Lipson helped to design and set up the pilot scheme and believes that it could help to keep thousands of patients out of hospital and save the NHS a lot of money. The trial suggests that it would save many people from ending up in hospital, reducing costs and easing pressure on NHS services through the winter when resources are stretched.