Fuel poverty will kill terminally ill people quicker this winter, charity warns

Fuel poverty will kill people quicker this winter as terminally ill people struggle to afford to heat their homes, a charity has warned.

High energy bills, delays in accessing benefits and the other costs associated with their illness are leaving terminally ill people struggling to afford their heating costs, said end of life charity Marie Curie.

It warned the consequences of living in cold, damp housing could lead to new infections, make existing symptoms worse, affect mental wellbeing and in the worst cases even hasten death.

In a report on Friday, it said between 2014-2019 in England and Wales more than 19,100 excess winter deaths from respiratory diseases and nearly 10,900 from dementia were attributable to cold housing.

With an estimated 3.4 million households in the UK living in fuel poverty, Marie Curie is calling for greater financial support and guidance to support terminally ill people.

The charity said some terminally ill people miss out on vital support through schemes such as the warm home discount and the winter fuel payment because they are not eligible or they do not know how to apply.

Beth Namara, a nurse who cares for terminally ill people in their homes, said: “I’ve had patients with no blankets, shivering in the cold and sleeping in the foetal position to try and stay warm.

“I do all I can, but at times I feel helpless in the situation – you wish you could do more.”

Ms Namara, who has been part of the Marie Curie nursing service for six years, added: “With the cost of living increasing and more unemployment than ever before, I’m really worried what this year will bring as there’s no doubt a cold home will worsen a patient’s condition.

“I think it will be worse than ever before this winter. I’ve visited some patients who can’t even afford to buy toilet paper.

“It’s going to be hard.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive at Marie Curie, said: “It is shocking that any dying person should spend the end of their life in cold, damp and uncomfortable conditions, robbed of the best quality of life possible because of unaffordable heating costs.

“Throughout the pandemic, our community nurses have continued to provide care and support to people at end of life in their homes across the country, but we need to make sure they are in a comfortable, warm environment so they are not forced into hospitals, increasing pressure on an already stretched NHS.

“We are calling for urgent action from Government and wider health and social care stakeholders to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty among terminally ill people, including by improving access to the warm home discount and winter fuel payment.”