Hundreds more people are set to benefit from a scheme that offers energy bill support to those with health conditions that are made worse by the cold.
The Warm Home Prescription scheme was piloted in Gloucestershire over three months until March, where it helped 28 people pay for their energy bills.
The participants had to fulfil a range of requirements before they were "prescribed warmth" to reduce their risk of serious illness and hospitalisation – and reduce the cost to the NHS.
The pilot was funded through the government’s Housing Support Fund, with support from sustainability charity Severn Wye and non-profit innovation hub Energy Systems Catapult.
This winter, the pilot will be extended to up to 150 people in Gloucestershire under the same funding model, along with around 1,000 more in Tees Valley and Aberdeenshire, which will be paid for through BP’s social impact fund.
Energy Systems Catapult has said it is also speaking to other energy companies to about expanding the scheme for next winter if the evidence shows it’s a cost effective approach.
Participants will be chosen by health and care workers, such as GPs, before a home visit is scheduled, with arrangements made to credit energy accounts and to upgrade home energy where possible.
To be eligible, people will need to have a relevant health condition, such as COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis.
They will also have to be either under 60 and receiving free NHS prescriptions, or over 60 and struggling to pay for heating.
The team behind the service estimates that it could pay for itself by keeping patients out of hospital, reducing pressure on health workers and saving significant sums in avoided care costs, and the expansion to Aberdeenshire and Tees Valley is aimed at seeing the results across a larger area.
During the pilot, more than 2,000 people with similar health conditions in Gloucestershire needed emergency treatment in hospital, costing more than £6m – the equivalent of £3,000 each – according to NHS Gloucestershire.
Meanwhile, the average cost per patient on the pilot that prescribed warmth was £647, with doctors saying the process was quick and easy, and recipients saying they felt warmer, healthier, and less likely to visit GPs and hospitals.
Among those prescribed the energy were Lisa and her disabled husband Paul, who live in a 1980s two-bedroom semi-detached home.
They had fallen behind on their bills and Lisa was missing meals so she could afford to heat their bedroom.
She said: "I always made sure that my husband was warm even if it meant that we couldn’t afford the electric so that he would sleep downstairs on the mattress.
"As long as he was warm in one room then that was fine."
After the pilot – which saw their £55 fuel debt repaid and a further £1,060 in fuel vouchers supplied – she said: "It has helped so much with his mental health because he feels good in himself, because he’s not shivering.
"I haven’t had to choose between food and electricity."
Dr Hein Le Roux, a local GP and clinical lead for One Gloucestershire Integrated Care System, said: "People with conditions such as COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis are at particular risk from complications associated with living in cold housing.
"The Warm Home Prescription allows us to be more proactive in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our county.
"We want to stop people from becoming unwell and help them to stay healthy at home in housing that is safe and warm."
Treating patients who live in cold homes costs the NHS around £860m per year in England alone, according to a 2021 report by the Building Research Establishment.
The extent to which the scheme might be expanded further is unclear – NHS England told Sky News that this is up to NHS integrated care boards and clinical commissioning groups about whether to adopt it in their areas.
© Sky News 2023