Patients miss appointments because of travel cost fears
An increasing number of people are not seeking healthcare due to costs such as travel, a patient watchdog has found.
Many patients are so concerned about costs, they are also refusing dental care and not collecting prescriptions, according to a poll conducted by Healthwatch England.
The organisation, part of the Care Quality Commission, said it was worried about people avoiding vital care, and called for government action.
Its national director, Louise Ansari, said: “It is clear that the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s health and wellbeing is beginning to hit home.”
The poll of 2,000 adults in England found that the number of people avoiding NHS appointments due to travel costs rose to 11 per cent in December 2022.
It also suggested that 15 per cent of people have avoided seeking dental care due to the costs of standard check-ups, a rise from 3 per cent in October.
People are also refusing to buy over-the-counter medication, with 1 in 10 neglecting self-care on medicines they would usually rely on.
Ten per cent of people also said they are avoiding collecting one or more NHS prescriptions because of the cost.
Lynda Hesketh, 60, a rheumatoid arthritis patient from Cheshire, said the cost of living crisis has affected her health and wellbeing.
“Heating costs are a big concern as my joints stiffen up in the cold,” she said. “I often switch the heating on or have a bath to ease the pain and stiffness in my joints, so this increases my energy bills.
“The energy crisis is really bad, I don’t remember it being as bad as this.”
Ms Hesketh told Healthwatch that she was also finding it hard to pay for travel to hospital appointments.
She has also been asked to contribute to the cost of her social care, which she has considered an added expense that she cannot afford.
“All of this is very stressful and extremely worrying, so much so it regularly impacts my sleep. I don’t feel up to all these challenges and they are contributing to the worsening of my condition,” she said.
Additional health costs have put added pressure on already strained household budgets.
These concerns have previously been highlighted by local councillors and healthcare representatives from St Helens, Merseyside, in November, who sent a letter to chancellor Jeremy Hunt raising “extremely worrying evidence”, similar to Healthwatch’s findings.
Commenting on the poll’s findings, Ms Ansari said: “We are very worried that people are increasingly avoiding getting
prescription medicines, booking NHS appointments and travelling to their appointments because of the extra costs.
“The steps people are taking to cope with the cost of living can have serious implications on their physical and mental health. This is likely to place a further burden on the already stretched NHS.
“The cost of living should never be a barrier to healthcare. The increase in the number of people avoiding vital care needs urgent joint action from the government and health and care services.
“Steps such as offering over-the-counter medication on prescription based on ability to pay, raising awareness of travel reimbursement schemes and patient transport services, and ensuring people who need them take up social tariffs for phone and broadband could all make a huge difference for people who are struggling financially.”
The poll follows a similar study conducted in September 2022 by the charity Asthma + Lung UK, which found that almost a sixth of people with asthma were cutting back on using their inhaler to make it last longer.
Healthwatch has called on NHS England to work with Ofcom and telecommunications companies to ensure hospital and GP phone numbers are freephone services after 11 per cent of those
polled said they had avoided booking medical appointments due to the cost of telephone and broadband bills.
A government spokesperson said: “We know it is a difficult time for families across the country. That is why we have acted swiftly to provide support, including the energy price guarantee, which is saving the typical household around £900 this winter, as well as £400 payments towards bills and £1,200 for the most vulnerable households.
“It’s vital people attend their appointments and we have capped bus tickets at £2 for thousands of bus routes to keep public transport accessible and affordable, while we’ve also frozen prescription charges for the first time in 12 years.”
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