Doctors in England are seeing patients whose health problems appear to be linked to the cost of living crisis.
Some people ignore health issues because putting food on the table is a priority, a doctor has said.
A doctor says a patient deliberately injured his face after an unpaid bill ‘tipped him off’.
Some doctors in England say the toll of this year’s cost of living crisis has shown up in the health problems facing some of their patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have contributed to global inflation, pushing up food prices, energy bills and other basics. As a result, many people struggle to feed their families and heat their homes.
Dr Hina Shahid, a GP in London, told Insider she had seen an increase in the number of patients seeking medical help over the past two years, but it had become “much more acute” over the past 12 last months.
Shahid said people might come to see her due to mental illness or other medical issues, but “digging deeper, it turns out a lot of it is rooted in the stress of the cost of life, payment of bills and debts”.
Old people turn off the heating
One group most at risk are the elderly, according to Shahid, who runs a clinic that cares for them. Even last year – when UK energy bills were generally cheaper than they are now – she saw plenty of older patients who didn’t turn on the heating. A man developed a serious lung infection because he lived in a cold, damp apartment, she said.
“If people don’t live in good conditions, that’s the biggest health risk they can face,” Shahid said.
When patients arrive, they may express a mixture of anger, frustration, depression and helplessness, Shahid said. “It really scares me what’s going to happen in the future when we have these energy price hikes.”
“The Pressure of Life”
Dr Bob Gill, a GP in the county of Kent in south-east England, agreed he had seen an increase in the number of patients struggling because of their financial situation. Usually they’ve felt a mood difference or felt tired and want a medical explanation, he told Insider.
“They don’t want to admit to themselves that it’s the pressure of life that gets to them,” he said.
People end up looking for antidepressants or sedatives to help them deal with the pressure, Gill said. A patient, who was self-employed, presented with self-inflicted facial injuries after an unpaid bill “tipped him over”, he said.
Gill said in his experience, men were less likely to make doctor’s appointments, which he attributed to pressure not to recognize a need for help.
“There’s this element where we’re all told to be resilient,” he said. “What it ends up saying, well, it’s not society, it’s not external issues, it’s because you’re not resilient. So you’re internalizing some of the turmoil more and you don’t ask for help.”
Health swept under the rug
In some cases, the stress caused by the cost of living crisis has taken people’s attention away from their health.
“Some households won’t even think of health as an issue because they have to think about putting food on the table or how they’re going to pay their rent, and so that takes precedence,” Shahid said, adding that preventable health issues “are rubbing under the rug because it’s not a priority.”
Those issues that were “left to brew” will become “a state of crisis or complication” later, she said.
Therapists are not cheap
Frances Trussell, a therapist in the UK, told Insider she hasn’t had an increase in clients with cost of living issues. She suspects the reason is that the most financially troubled people could not afford the services of a therapist.
“Anxiety about the cost of living will impact many members of the population, as it triggers one of our basic fears of ‘not having enough,'” Trussell said.
Shahid said GPs were often the ‘first port of call’ for many patients who didn’t know where to turn, while Gill said paying £40 an hour for a therapist would be the ‘last something they were thinking about.”
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