Tackling fuel poverty would cut winter deaths and costs to the NHSIvy Madziva
Readers discuss ways to ease the pressures on the NHS, including the role played by volunteers.
A rally in London this summer marks 70 years of the NHS and calls on the government to increase funding and staffing. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The appalling statistics on excess winter deaths in England and Wales (Last winter’s NHS crisis worst since 1976, with 50,000 excess winter deaths – ONS, 1 December) demonstrate the extreme hardship so many people face living in our dreadful, leaky homes during cold weather. For every death, probably five people had emergency admissions to hospital and 27 had additional visits to their GPs. The cost to the health service is enormous. If you could afford to keep warm, the effect of influenza would not be so serious.
There have been three recent reports from the government or its advisers setting targets to deal with the problem of the poorest people living in the least energy-efficient housing. But the rhetoric on fuel poverty is not matched by adequate policies. Worse still, no government money is going into making these leaky homes more energy efficient – that task is left to the utilities.
Can we please have a focus on the dire state of our housing stock? This will mean investment by the government in energy efficiency, with money from the Treasury. There are millions of fuel-poor homes – each requiring tens of thousands of pounds spent on them if the occupants are to be warm despite their low incomes. We should be spending billions of pounds to reduce fuel poverty.
Dr Brenda Boardman
Emeritus fellow, University of Oxford
This morning I asked to arrange a flu jab at my GP’s. When I was asked my age, I was surprised to find that because I was over 65, I couldn’t have a jab – there were none left. The local pharmacist, where I tried next, explained that there is a national shortage of flu jabs for the over-65s, as a new system of age-related vaccines has been introduced.
I came home and opened the Guardian. An NHS advert has Trevor McDonald exhorting his fellow over-65s to have a flu jab. He tells me it can be serious at my age, and that I should speak to my GP or pharmacist … Done that. What do I do next, Trevor?
The pressures on the NHS are immense, and volunteers do have a role to play. But they cannot, and should never, take the place of paid employees (Volunteers are no solution to the NHS crisis, 6 December). With resources so stretched across the NHS, health workers know they can’t always spend the quality time they’d like with patients. So if volunteers can make someone feel less anxious about their hospital stay, that helps staff. But while welcoming the thousands offering their free time to the NHS, more radical change is needed if the extreme pressures affecting every part of the health service are to be eased.
That requires the government to do more to persuade anxious EU nationals working in our hospitals, clinics and communities that they are welcome and shouldn’t leave. It also means upping the number of NHS apprenticeships, getting rid of tuition fees, and reinstating the student bursary system scrapped last year – a decision deterring many potential recruits.
Health workers too need reassurances that volunteers won’t be seen as free employees. That’s why health unions are working on a charter with the charity Helpforce, which will help define the roles of staff and volunteers, and ensure there’s no blurring of the lines between them.
Head of health, Unison
That volunteers are no solution to the NHS crisis is largely correct but misses out one aspect of volunteering which is vital and always requiring new recruits. Many hospitals train “feeding buddies” – volunteers whose sole task is to help ensure that patients who are unable to feed themselves, or are reluctant to eat, get one-to-one attention.
Gargrave, North Yorkshire
The health secretary might do well to talk to some doctors before getting rid of fax machines (NHS banned from buying fax machines, 9 December). My daughter, as a GP, works on occasions in A&E and “out of hours” GP units. She relies on fax machines to communicate with departments and GPs as emails get lost or are left unread.
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