Some of the most vulnerable people at risk from fuel poverty in Gloucestershire will be supported to pay their energy bills this winter thanks to an innovative Warm Home Prescription scheme.

Up to 150 people across the county with cold-sensitive health conditions who struggle with the costs of heating their home will have their energy bills paid between November 2022 and March 2023.

The initiative is being funded through innovative use of the Government’s Housing Support fund, together with support from sustainability charity Severn Wye and non-profit innovation hub Energy Systems Catapult.

The Warm Home Prescription is a pioneering new way to target support at the most vulnerable people who are affected by the rise in the cost-of-living, helping to keep them well at home.

To be eligible people must be diagnosed with chronic lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis. They also must be either under 60 and in receipt of free NHS prescriptions, or over 60 and struggling to pay their heating bill.

Health and care teams, including GPs and local social prescribers, are working together to identify eligible patients and prescribe them a warm home, with charity Severn Wye following up the referral to credit peoples’ energy accounts and arranging home energy upgrades where possible.

The service will prescribe a heating plan to keep homes at temperatures recommended by public health guidance, support people with further energy efficiency information and signpost to other services that could help.

The team behind the service estimate that it could pay for itself by keeping patients out of hospital, thereby reducing pressure on busy health and care staff and saving significant sums in avoided care costs.

During a local trial of the scheme last winter in Gloucestershire, thought to be the first scheme of its kind in the UK, people in receipt of support said they felt warmer and healthier, less stressed about bills and less likely to visit their GP or hospital. Health workers said it was a quick to prescribe, practical solution which had an immediate positive impact.

Dr Hein Le Roux, from the NHS in Gloucestershire, said:

“People with conditions such as COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis are at particular risk from complications associated with living in cold housing.

The Warm Home prescription allows us to be more proactive in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our county. We want to stop people from becoming unwell and help them to stay healthy at home in housing that is safe and warm.”

Owen Callender, Head of Affordable Warmth at Severn Wye Energy Agency, which delivered the client facing aspects of the service, said:

“Delivered alongside fuel poverty schemes that incorporate energy efficiency interventions, the impact of this project will be huge.

Working with social prescribers means we’re able to support clients we’ve never been in touch with before, reducing their bills and their fuel stress. At a time when the NHS is recovering from the impact of the pandemic, this project will have enormous social, environmental, and economic impacts, but most importantly it will allow us to improve the wellbeing of some of society’s most vulnerable people.”

Professor Sarah Scott, Executive Director, Adult Social Care, Communities and Wellbeing at Gloucestershire County Council, said:

“With the increase in fuel costs and winter fast approaching, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and do what we can to ensure people with certain health conditions don’t have to experience the cold because they can’t afford to heat their home.

By coming together as One Gloucestershire health, care, and voluntary sector partners to pool our resources and address fuel poverty in a joined-up way, we can support some of our most vulnerable residents to stay warm and well this winter.”

Dr Matt Lipson, consumer insight lead at Energy Systems Catapult, which designed the service through its Fair Futures programme, said:

“Living in cold homes puts millions with health conditions at risk of real harm. It costs the NHS over £860 million each year and causes 10,000 deaths every winter. And it’s set to become an even bigger challenge this year as energy prices rise and household budgets fall.

“There has to be a better solution to help the most vulnerable. If we buy the energy people need but can’t afford, they can keep warm at home and stay out of hospital. That would target support to where it’s needed, save money overall and take pressure off the health service. The scheme will also find homes we can insulate to cut running costs and emissions in future.”