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Cost-of-living crisis ‘almost as challenging’ as Covid for population health

Cost-of-living crisis ‘almost as challenging’ as Covid for population health

The negative impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on patients’ health and social isolation is ‘almost as challenging’ as during the coronavirus pandemic, an associate chief nursing officer has told.

In an interview with Nursing in Practice, Rachael Hebbert, associate chief nursing officer at Wye Valley NHS Trust, warned of the ‘large amount’ of patients likely to be seen in primary care who have been affected by the spiking cost of living.

Nurses are seeing patients unable to pick up their prescriptions due to money concerns, while many individuals are also facing poor housing conditions and diets, said Ms Hebbert, who is also an ambassador at the Personalised Care Institute.

‘We’ve been through Covid and that was significant in terms of the struggles we all went through,’ said Ms Hebbert.

‘But we’ve come out of that and now we’re in a situation which is almost as challenging, in terms of the health impacts for patients and social isolation.’

Ms Hebbert noted that as the cost of living rises with inflation, more people are struggling financially and are falling into social depravation.

And she said she was ‘particularly worried’ about the impact of the incoming winter on population health.

‘With a fuel crisis people are going to be making the decision that they can’t afford to put on the heating, or they might be making decisions to have a poorer diet,’ she noted.

‘All of those things absolutely have an impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing, but they also have a real impact on a person’s physical health.’

For example, the fact that healthy foods are more expensive meant some people were opting for cheaper and poorer diets, and in turn this could, in some cases, lead to leg ulcerations and negatively impact wound healing, said Ms Hebbert.

She also warned that poor housing conditions and a lack of adequate heating could lead to a rise in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In addition, she noted: ‘As a nurse you might recognise that people aren’t picking up their prescriptions, and I have seen people making those decisions.’

Financial struggles can also be linked to an increase in anxiety, depression, and low mood, as well as mental health issues associated with increasing social isolation, added Ms Hebbert.

However, Ms Hebbert also noted that general practice nurses are well placed to discuss financial issues with patients and signpost to the appropriate services.

‘There will inevitably be a large amount of people on the caseload of those nurses in primary care that would be impacted, and we know this because nurses are being impacted as well,’ said Ms Hebbert.

‘In practice nursing you’re very much involved not only with that patient, but their whole family for generations, and you build up a therapeutic relationship when you’ve got patients coming in to see you.

‘You find that those people will open up conversations very often and if they have financial concerns they might mention that to a nurse as a trusted individual.’

In  a survey conduced by the Personalised Care Institute, 47% of nurses reported an increase in the number of patients talking to them about money concerns in the last six months.

And while 78% stated that supporting patients with money issues earlier might prevent further health issues later on, 89% of those respondents said they felt unequipped to have these conversations.

Ms Hebbert recommended nurses use the ‘Money Talk Toolkit‘ created by the NHS-commissioned Personalised Care Institute and Money and Pensions Service’.

This toolkit offers free training and resources to help nurses better discuss their patients’ financial struggles and signpost appropriately to other services.

‘These are often the most important things that are of concern to patients at the moment and the personalised care element is about asking patients not what is the matter with them, but what matters to them,’ added Ms Hebbert.

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