Patients are being admitted to hospital after having their gas and electric shut off, an NHS chief has told the energy regulator.
The health boss has asked the national regulator for gas and electricity markets to reconsider the policy of disconnecting supplies as it will “save lives” this winter.
In an unprecedented move, Samantha Allen, chief executive of the NHS in the North East and Cumbria, has hit out at the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) for disconnecting energy supplies for vulnerable patients.
In a letter to Ofgem, published on Friday, she said she had “serious concerns” for clinical vulnerable patients who are having their electricity and gas cut off after not paying.
The news comes as the government has faced fierce criticism by NHS leaders over failures to address the cost of living crisis.
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The letter said: “It has come to light that we are starting to see examples where clinically vulnerable people have been disconnected from their home energy supply which has then led to a hospital admission.
“This is impacting on people who live independently at home, with support from our community health services team, and are reliant on using electric devices for survival.”
An example she gave of those at risk are patients who need to use oxygen at home and added there is also a concern for people with mental health needs who might find themselves without an energy supply.
Ms Allen said: “It is my understanding that those people deemed clinically vulnerable cannot have their energy supply disconnected. Based on some examples, along with the contact we are having with many clinically vulnerable people, it is clear that significant concern exists across our communities.
“Put simply, the impact of having their energy supply terminated will be life-threatening for some people. All of this will place additional demands on already stretched health and social care services.”
The chief executive warned increased demand would limit the capacity of the NHS to provide treatment to patients.
The letter, first reported by the Health Service Journal, asks OFGEM to ensure the clinically vulnerable patient lists they hold are updated frequently.
It also asked for the regulator to develop a “fail-safe” system to ensure new patients are added to these lists immediately and have a senior officer responsible for within each energy company to act as lead for the NHS.
The letter ended: ”Finally, as energy prices rise, we are all conscious of the impact this will have on those people who cannot afford to pay for their energy. This is of grave concern to everyone, I am sure, especially given the evidence relating to excess winter deaths and serious illnesses as a result of cold weather.
“I, therefore, ask you to reconsider the disconnection policy for all energy companies and mirror that which is in place within the Water Industry where domestic supplies cannot be disconnected. In doing so, I am confident that this will save lives.”