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People getting sicker due to spending cuts and rising cost of living – doctors

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) said medics are struggling to cope with demand from patients whose health conditions are being made worse by poverty (Anthony Devlin/PA)
A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) said medics are struggling to cope with demand from patients whose health conditions are being made worse by poverty (Anthony Devlin/PA)

People are getting sicker owing to decades of spending cuts, “decimated” public services and the current cost-of-living crisis, doctors have warned.

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) said medics are struggling to cope with demand from patients whose health conditions are being made worse by poverty, poor housing, lack of heating and skipping meals.

Around half of GP appointments are taken up with often preventable, long-term conditions, while medics spend around 20% of their time dealing with issues that are “non-medical but related to social or economic pressures”.

The report warned that the UK is “facing multiple threats to its health and the Government is failing to respond”.

In the study, the BMA argued that the nation’s health was already deteriorating before Covid hit, including through a decade of austerity, widening inequalities and cuts to public services and public health.

The amount of time people spend in poor health has increased, while the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas is now almost 20 years, it said.

“The pandemic made matters substantially worse, and the current cost-of-living crisis will also have considerable implications for people’s health,” the report added.

“Higher levels of fuel poverty and food insecurity will make matters worse as the NHS will likely incur greater demand from the effects of more people being forced into increasingly precarious lives.”

According to the report, in 2019 alone, it was estimated the NHS spent at least £2.5bn per year on treating illnesses directly linked to cold, damp and dangerous homes.

“While doctors can treat a patient’s respiratory symptoms, too often they must send them back to the cold, fuel-poor homes that made them sick in the first place,” it said.

The study argued that the economy is dependent on a healthy population but “without action to improve health, the economy will remain sick”.

It said: “Doctors are extremely concerned about what they are seeing in their day-to-day work. Patients are coming to them in very difficult circumstances that cannot be solved by medical care alone.

“Doctors are already unable to cope with the current demand for their services, let alone more people needing help because of a failure to fund national and local public services properly.”

One GP in Sheffield quoted in the report said: “My personal experience of working with health inequality is an increasing sense of sadness and frustration.

“You essentially listen to patient suffering and that is the most
you can do for people.”

A surgeon from Scotland added: “One case that haunts me is a worker from an upmarket store who presented with sepsis and bilateral foot infections.

“When taking their history, they recounted that their feet had been worsening and in agony for quite a while, but they were unable to take time off work to attend the GP, as their income was precious.”

The report also criticised the “erosion” of Government policies designed to keep people healthy such as around alcohol use, obesity and smoking.

Professor Martin McKee, president of the BMA, said: “Doctors are struggling to pick up the pieces of Government failures.

“Too many people simply don’t know if their families will have money, food or shelter from one week to the next and doctors are left feeling helpless in the face of ever-increasing levels of ill health.

“How can we expect otherwise, when they’re forced to send patients back to cold homes, to meagre meals and to the endless stress of ever-rising costs?

“The most upsetting part is how avoidable all this is. Budgets for all the things that we need for health, whether in local government, welfare, housing and many other sectors have been eroded for more than a decade.”