The Welsh Liberal Democrats have warned that the Welsh NHS could face unprecedented pressure this winter as spiralling energy costs lead to an increase in the number of patients being admitted with respiratory illnesses and other conditions caused by exposure to cold and damp conditions.
The Party has warned that the Welsh NHS faces a double whammy of increased illness due to people struggling to stay warm alongside the existing backlogs in the health services caused by the pandemic.
In 2019 155,000 households (12% of the population) in Wales were estimated to be living in fuel poverty. As of April 2022, that amount has risen to an estimated 45% of households, with more at risk of falling into energy poverty as autumn and winter arrive.
Fuel poverty has a direct impact on illness, with those exposed to cold conditions for long periods being more susceptible to viruses, respiratory illnesses, gastric and duodenal ulcers, high blood pressure and coronary incidents. Overall, those living in fuel poverty are estimated to be at a 30-50% increased level of risk due to respiratory illnesses while 10% of all excess deaths are attributed to living in cold and damp housing.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Welsh Government to offer more support as the country moves into winter, but stated the majority of the responsibility remains with the Conservative Westminster Government. The party wants to see Westminster scrap the energy price cap rise in October, as well as provide further targeted support at the lowest paid amid a winter cost of living crisis.
The party’s plan to keep energy bills at their current price would be part funded by a further Windfall Tax on oil and gas companies.
Commenting Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said:
“We need to be really clear, people will die this winter if the Government does not take stronger action to protect households against these extortionate rises.
“Our NHS is already under great strain and is still recovering from COVID, yet this winter we face a devastating rise in illnesses caused by people being unable to heat their homes.
“It cannot be right that in the first six months of this year alone, BP and Shell made a staggering £29 billion in profits, whilst many households will go cold or hungry this winter.
“The Conservatives must scrap the energy price cap rise immediately if we are to avoid tremendous hardship this winter.
“Likewise I would like to see more support put in place by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay who have continuously missed fuel poverty reduction and insulation targets with a Senedd inquiry report earlier this year stating that ‘the Warm Homes Programme lacked the "scale, size and purpose" to meet people's needs’.
“Welsh Labour must invest in robust and regularly updated data on housing stock quality and should introduce annual reporting on fuel poverty levels.”