The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that public health challenges and aggressive funding cuts are risking people’s health in the UK.
An RCN survey of more than 10,000 nurses and healthcare assistants has found that many are treating patients whose health is being affected by lifestyle factors.
The survey found that 38% have seen patients dealing with malnutrition or food poverty.
Meanwhile, 41% have attended to patients with their health affected by inadequate or unsafe housing and 21% have seen patients who have no heating at home.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The NHS has evolved over the years into an excellent system for curing illness and treating its effects.
“But what this survey shows is the huge increase in ill health, which could have been prevented.
“Lifestyle choices have a part to play, but many of the problems identified by nurses as affecting the health of their patients come down to the very difficult lives many of them lead.
“Inadequate or unsafe housing has a huge effect on health, as does overcrowding, food poverty, overwork, unemployment and family breakdown.
“Dealing with just one of these problems can take its toll on both mental and physical health, but the reality is that many people live with many of them.
“There is a widening divide between people who are living long and healthy lives and those who are struggling due to poor housing or poverty – and this inequality in itself is something that should not be tolerated.
The RCN says it is also concerned that these issues may be getting worse at the same time as funding is being cut back and preventative work is being reduced
More than 40% of nurses said that their work was affected by heightened pressure on public health services.
Davies added: “The RCN’s major worry is that efforts to tackle the issues and to help people live healthier lives are in danger of going backwards because of aggressive public health funding cuts.
“These issues are not new and efforts to tackle them go back many years.
“It is time that real, consistent progress was made in tackling them to avoid the consequences of profound social problems in the years to come.”
Half of those surveyed said that the proportion of their patients who need care for preventable conditions has increased during the course of their career.
One nurse told the RCN: “The elderly are becoming more socially isolated due to financial constraints from the government which impacts greatly on their physical and mental health.”
Meanwhile, another said: “I work with homeless and drug and alcohol abusers, and have seen their lives become more difficult due to lack of resources and services being pulled out due to lack of funding.”