A growing number of people are putting off seeking care because of extra costs such as travel, a patient watchdog has warned.
Many are so worried about cash that they also refuse dental care or don’t pick up prescriptions, according to Healthwatch England.
The patient champions organization said it was “concerned” about the consequences of people avoiding vital care as it called for government action.
He conducted a patient tracking survey, shared exclusively with the Pennsylvania News Agency, to assess the impact of spiraling costs on the way people use health and care services.
The new survey of 2,000 adults in England, shared with the PA news agency, found that:
– The number of people who avoided an NHS appointment due to the cost of travel rose from 6% in October to 11% in December.
– About 15% said they avoided going to the dentist because of the cost of checkups in December, up from 3% in October.
– In December, 10% said they had avoided buying over-the-counter medicines they normally trust, up 3% from October.
– Around 6% of people surveyed in October said they avoided collecting one or more NHS prescriptions due to cost and this figure rose to 10% in December.
This includes reducing heating, food, and the use of essential appliances.
Lynda Hesketh, a rheumatoid arthritis patient from Cheshire, said the cost of living crisis has affected her health and well-being.
“Heating costs are a big concern as my joints stiffen in the cold,” he said.
“I often turn on the heat or take a bath to relieve joint pain and stiffness, which adds to my energy bills.
“The energy crisis is really bad, I don’t remember it being as bad as this one.”
The 60-year-old woman told Healthwatch that she was finding it difficult to pay for rides to hospital appointments.
Ms Hesketh has also been asked to make financial contributions towards her social care, an additional expense she cannot afford.
“This is all very stressful and extremely worrying, so much so that it regularly affects my sleep.
“I don’t feel up to all these challenges and they are contributing to the worsening of my condition.”
Louise Ansari, National Director of Healthwatch England, said: “It is clear that the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s health and well-being is starting to hit.
“We are very concerned that people are increasingly avoiding getting prescription drugs, making NHS appointments and traveling to appointments due to the extra costs.
“The steps people are taking to address the cost of living can have serious implications for their physical and mental health. This is likely to put an additional burden on the already overburdened NHS.
“Cost of living should never be a barrier to healthcare. The increase in the number of people avoiding vital care requires urgent joint action by the Government and the health and care services.
“Steps like offering over-the-counter prescription drugs based on ability to pay, raising awareness of travel reimbursement plans and patient transportation services, and ensuring people who need them accept social phone rates and broadband could make a big difference to people. They are struggling financially.
Healthwatch also called on NHS England to work with OfCom and telecommunications companies to ensure hospital and GP phone numbers are part of freephone services after 11% said they had avoided booking appointments due to telephone and internet costs.
A government spokesman said: “We know this is a difficult time for families across the country. That’s why we’ve moved swiftly to provide support, including an energy price guarantee, which is saving the typical household around £900 this winter, as well as £400 in bill payments and £1,200 for households more vulnerable.
“It is vital that people keep their appointments and we have limited bus tickets to £2 for thousands of bus routes to keep public transport accessible and affordable, while also freezing prescription charges for the first time in 12 years” .