The people getting their heating bills paid for on prescription

Vulnerable people are having their heating bills paid for on prescription after a pilot has proved successful.

Gloucestershire was chosen as the area to try the Warm Home Prescription scheme.

Energy Systems Catapult, the company behind the project, is working with the NHS to help vulnerable people, with both cold-sensitive health conditions and on low incomes.

By having their heating paid for, it is helping people to stay warmer and healthier at home and out of hospital. It is being funded by the Government's Housing Support Fund.

In 2021-2022, just 15 people were signed up to the scheme to test it out before expanding this year to 150 people.

Joshua Goral, aged 25, lives in Churchdown with his wife and two young children. In 2020, he nearly died in hospital after a severe asthma attack.

Luckily he made a good recovery, but relies on medication and needs his home to be warm and well ventilated.

Joshua's social prescriber signed him up to the scheme and he now has nine months worth of heating bill vouchers.

He is thrilled and said it has lifted a weight off his shoulders: "With a little family and two children, every penny counts, especially with the cost of living.

"It's going to really help my health and also we'll go for a long period of time without having to worry about money so much."

Dr Hein le Roux is leading the scheme in Gloucestershire

Who is eligible for the Warm Home Prescription scheme?

  • 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

Dr Hein le Roux is the clinical lead for the Warm Home Prescription scheme in Gloucestershire. He is really proud that the project has taken off: "It's such a simple idea but often if you think of the traditional medical model, we see patients when they're unwell.

"We treat them with antibiotics or other medications to get them better. But I think what we're all realising is that prevention is better than cure.

"So actually, if we get someone's house warm over the winter, you can really help their chest and lung problems - and hopefully mean they don't get unwell, needing to go to hospital and even needing to see us over the winter.

In August 2022, ITV West Country interviewed Nick Flaherty, a father from Long Ashton who was caring for his disabled daughter Rhia.

He was facing a tough winter with soaring costs and racking up more debt to pay for her care - his energy bill for November came to £1,000.

Nick sadly lost his daughter Rhia on 9 December 2022 Credit: Nick Flaherty

Rhia had to be on a ventilator overnight, on oxygen 24/7 and needed a warm home.

Sadly, at just 14-years-old, Rhia passed away on 9 December last year.

Now reflecting on the final few months of his daughter's life, Nick says that financial support with heating bills would have helped: "When you're in the middle of it, you just keep going. You have no other option."

"But looking back, it would make such a difference and for so many other families in similar situations.

"It would actually take the worry out of, how do you give these children, these terribly vulnerable children, the best quality of life."

Energy Systems Catapult is now testing a scaled up version of the scheme with around 1,000 people in the Tees Valley and Aberdeenshire. It has also gained a lot of interest from other local authorities, including the Integrated Care Board in Bristol.

Dr Rose Chard, from Energy Systems Catapult, said: “Living in cold homes puts millions with health conditions at risk of real harm. It costs the NHS around £860 million each year in England alone, 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."