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

The rising cost of living is forcing patients to avoid buying life-saving drugs and equipment, as staff warn the crisis is putting further strain on an already stretched NHS.

Clinicians from 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 could not afford them.

NHS staff have said the crisis will cause huge strain on the health service, particularly over the winter.

Rebecca Shearer, senior general nurse in Newcastle, said: ‘One thing I see quite regularly, for example, is that if a patient has diabetes they will charge for the prescription, but if a patient has asthma is not something that is funded. I’m ready [running] in issues where people have poorly controlled asthma because they can’t afford the prescription. It would be [a situation] who would end up in the emergency room.

She added: ‘I’ve seen patients in a very short time, within two months, all of whom have come in asking for painkillers, and when we explored why their pain was getting worse, it was because they were cold all the time. daytime. They sat in cold houses, and when I asked them about the heating, they said they were hesitant to turn 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 union Unite, said nurses were already seeing new babies coming home to households that cannot afford ‘adequate’ heating or food, and in some cases, cannot afford special baby formulas.

Ms Dawson said she saw more and more families falling into the “vulnerable” category, as the cost of living meant that they struggled to pay for food and heating, which meant community services that are already “overwhelmed” are likely to struggle even more with demand. .

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

Sarah Sweeney, policy manager 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 constantly hear is the horrendous impact that the cost of living crisis is having on the lives of people who suffer from medical conditions.

National charities are also calling on the NHS to ensure patients are aware of what they are 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 fell sharply during the pandemic. The rate has been declining year on year since 2015-2016, although last year saw the biggest decline.

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 into the poverty line, and it is shocking that some are now having to make a difficult choice between eating, paying bills and being able to afford essential medicines like inhalers.

Research by Asthma and Lung UK showed that nine in 10 low-income people struggled to pay for their asthma prescriptions, and the charity asked for a prescription fee. to be suspended for those with long term conditions.

Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said: “Community nurses who visit people in their homes are already seeing the cumulative effects of the rising cost of living, as they work with individuals and families over the time and often see several generations of the same family.”

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 – by reducing fuel taxes, raising the threshold from where people start paying National Insurance and lowering 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 made it clear that tackling health disparities is a priority.