Cold housing a public health emergency, warns charity

Every health trust wastes more than £27,000 a day treating patients with health problems caused by living in cold housing, a charity has said.

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) said cold homes are a "public health emergency" and warned that the NHS is estimated to spend more than £1 billion a year treating preventable cold-related illness.

On average, every health trust in England spends more than £27,000 a day treating patients for conditions that could be prevented, it said. Over the last four years, 117,000 people have died needlessly due to the cold, it added.

Jenny Saunders, chief executive of NEA, said: "Cold homes are a public health emergency and are dramatically reducing life chances for vulnerable people.

"As well as it being completely unacceptable that in the 21st century people are still becoming ill and dying needlessly because they live in cold homes, treating health-related conditions is also placing a shocking strain on the public purse.

"Sweden and Norway can manage to avoid these costs and prevent thousands of extra people being admitted to hospital each winter because their residents live in housing which is efficient to heat, despite colder temperatures and higher energy prices.

"Given we know the causes and the best cure, we can't just shrug our shoulders and accept cold-related illness and death as inevitable. It isn't."

Evidence suggests that living in poor housing - such as with damp and mould - can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems. Conditions such as asthma and arthritis are often worse when it is cold.

Figures released in November showed there were about 43,900 excess deaths in England and Wales the previous winter, the highest number since 1999.

Most of the deaths involved people over 75 and the flu virus was a major cause of the rise.

The NEA said only half of all health and wellbeing boards have noted any actions to address fuel poverty in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments, which look at current and future health and care needs of local people.

Ms Saunders said there was also a need for boards to adopt guidance on preventing ill health published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

She said: "As well as more local action, it is clear we also need the Government to significantly increase investment in national programmes to help vulnerable and sick individuals improve insulation or fix their heating.

"Refocusing current resources on low-income households will help but ultimately existing national programmes remain woefully inadequate."

A Government spokeswoman said: "This Government is serious about helping vulnerable people heat their homes - we give more than 12 million pensioners up to £300 every winter and help the poorest by cutting £140 off their energy bills.

"But we know there is more to do, which is why we are requiring energy companies to help us make one million homes warmer by 2020."