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London (AFP) – British hospital bosses warned on Thursday that patient care may have to be cut to offset huge increases in energy bills over the winter months.
Most hospital groups contacted by medical journal BMJ said they expected bills to at least double as price hikes take effect.
The NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare providers in the state-funded National Health Service, said there would be a ripple effect.
“The funding gap due to rising inflation will either have to be filled by fewer staff employed, longer wait times for care, or by reducing other areas of patient care” , the group’s senior manager, Rory Deighton, told the BMJ.
“A failure to properly compensate the NHS for inflation will only increase the pressure on our health service as we head into what we know will be a particularly difficult winter this year.”
UK inflation is at 10.1%, its highest level in 40 years, with dire predictions that rates could climb to 18% or more next year.
Last week households were told their gas and electricity bills would rise by 80% from October, with further rises expected next year.
But non-residential customers are not covered by the energy price cap, which makes them more vulnerable to wholesale price spikes.
Businesses on all sides have warned that the huge increases could force many to close if the government does nothing to help.
The BMJ said bosses at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London had told it they expected an energy bill of around £650,000 ($756,000) a month in January and February from the next year.
This time last year it was around £350,000.
Sheffield Children’s Hospital in the north of England has forecast an increase of almost 130% in its total bill for 2022-23.
But the University Hospital in Nottingham, central England, has forecast a 214 per cent increase in gas and electricity this year, he added.
NHS England has set aside £1.5billion to cover an expected £485million rise in energy bills. But the estimate was made in May and prices have risen again, raising fears that this may not be enough.
The situation only adds to a growing catalog of problems faced by the state-funded National Health Service.
The NHS, established in 1948 to provide free healthcare and funded by general taxation, is a cherished British institution.
But the system, which costs £190billion a year and employs some 1.2million people in England alone, has long faced severe underfunding.
Deighton, from the NHS Confederation, said Britain’s new prime minister, who will be installed next week, must act immediately to offset increases in the cost of living.
“The NHS needs at least £3.4billion to offset inflation in this year alone, and that’s before we face a winter of wholesale energy prices again. higher,” he added.
Deighton’s boss, chief executive Matthew Taylor, told the Guardian this week that the NHS was “in its worst state in living memory”.
Problems include chronic staff shortages, overcrowded emergency and accident services, ambulance delays and long waiting lists for treatment.
A senior A&E doctor wrote on the UnHerd website this month that the service was “at breaking point”, with patients at risk.
Health experts say the crisis has been going on for decades but has been exacerbated by budget cuts over the past 12 years from the Tory government, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses and junior doctors are currently being voted for strike action amid widespread industrial action over below-inflation wage offers.
NHS health and social care workers have been hailed as heroes during the pandemic, but in a sign of crisis some hospitals have set up food banks for staff struggling with the rising cost of living.
An NHS official told LBC radio on Tuesday that he planned to convert unused space in the hospital into “warm rooms” for staff unable to afford winter heating at home.
© 2022 AFP