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Fuel poverty in Northern Ireland 'hastening deaths of terminally ill'


Annette Nixon

Annette Nixon

Annette Nixon

Terminally ill people in Northern Ireland will die quicker this winter because of fuel poverty, a charity has warned.

High energy bills, delays in accessing benefits and the other costs associated with their illness are leaving those at end of life struggling to afford their heating costs, Marie Curie said.

The consequences of living in cold housing are severe for those who are terminally ill, the charity claimed, as it may lead to new infections, make existing symptoms worse or even hasten death.

Today's report states that during the winters of 2014 to 2019 here, nearly 280 excess winter deaths from dementia were attributable to cold housing.

With an estimated 131,000 households here living in fuel poverty, the charity has called for greater financial support for terminally ill people and new guidance for Health Trusts to support dying people out of fuel poverty.

A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of income to maintain a satisfactory heating regime.

Annette Nixon from the Marie Curie Nursing Service in Northern Ireland said the cold conditions that some people are living in left her tearful.

She said: "Just this week, one of the families I visit brought tears to my eyes. They are really struggling financially and can't afford to heat their home so it's very cold. My patient has a terminal illness and hasn't worked for two years. He lives with his wife, who has been furloughed because of Covid and they have a young daughter.

"The house is very cold, and they are waiting on oil to be delivered from a local charity.

"They are such a lovely family - his wife kept apologising to me that I had to sit in a cold house and she even left out extra blankets for me and her husband. They are very proud people and have found it very difficult to ask for help, but they are out of options.

"It's shocking that people at end of life are forced to think about things like heating their home when they are already going through so much."

She added: "People at end of life should be able to spend their final weeks and months making memories with their loved ones, not worrying about how they are going to heat their home."

Craig Harrison, policy and public affairs manager at Marie Curie Northern Ireland, said: "It is unacceptable that any dying person should spend the end of their life in cold, damp and uncomfortable conditions, robbed of the best quality of life possible because of unaffordable heating costs.

"We know that terminally ill people can be among the most vulnerable to fuel poverty and the consequences can be devastating.

"Throughout the pandemic, our community nurses have continued to provide care and support to people at end of life in their homes across Northern Ireland, but we need to make sure they are in a comfortable, warm environment so they are not forced into hospitals, increasing pressure on an already stretched health care system.

"The recently-announced Covid-19 heating payment is to be welcomed, but in the longer-term we need more fundamental structural change."

Belfast Telegraph