Cold homes 'causing more respiratory illness in England than Sweden'

Research has revealed that more people end up in hospital due to the effects of cold homes, than in Sweden.

Over the past five years hospital admissions for chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis and emphysema, have been 40% higher per 100,000 of population in England than in Sweden, according to an analysis by Friends of the Earth (FoE).

Between them those conditions and pneumonia account for 3.2m bed days in NHS hospitals and cost the health service an estimated £875m in bed costs alone at a rate of £275 per day, with the cost of GP and social care services pushing the bill up even higher.

Stays in hospital because of pneumonia have also been 27% higher over the same period, while 126% more people in England than Sweden have had to be admitted with asthma.

FoE said the figures were shocking and reflected how poorly insulated many homes in England were. It called for a major drive by the government to fix houses that leak heat.

“It’s shocking that despite our milder weather, far more people per head of population get seriously ill in England from cold home-related illnesses than they do in Sweden,” said Sophie Neuburg, a FoE energy campaigner.

“The key to solving this crisis is better housing. Sweden’s homes are well insulated and the nation benefits from much lower levels of fuel poverty than the UK,” she added.

FoE’s figures are based on its comparison of data covering the last five years from the NHS’s health and social care information centre about patients in England and statistics from the Swedish national board of health and welfare. Advertisement The figures are striking, given Sweden’s much colder climate, harsher winters and energy prices, which were the highest in the EU in 2013 and were double those in the UK.

However, FoE says that the stark differences in hospitalisation rates are largely due to homes in England generally having much less insulation than those in Sweden. The walls of houses in the UK typically lose three times as much heat at those in Sweden, due to a lack of cavity wall and loft insulation to retain heat, it says.

“Swedish homes are much more energy efficient than UK homes, leading to lower levels of fuel poverty despite higher energy prices. England’s poor quality housing stock is, therefore, likely to be a significant factor in our much higher levels of hospitalisation for respiratory conditions,” a new FoE briefing paper on cold homes and breathing conditions says.

FoE is urging ministers to launch a major drive to end cold homes. It is demanding an energy efficiency programme which would start by bringing 4m homes up to a good standard by 2020, including 2m homes occupied by low-income families, who are the worst hit for breathing problems linked to poorly-insulated dwellings. Doing so would relieve fuel poverty, increase GDP and create about 100,000 jobs, it claims.

A government spokesman did not respond directly to FoE’s findings. Instead he said in a statement that: “We know that living in a cold home can affect people’s health. We’re investing more than half a billion pounds to help people stay warm in their own homes through energy efficiency schemes. A further £2.15bn has been spent on winter fuel payments to help vulnerable pay their bills.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change had recently announced a £1m fund to improve “warmth-on-prescription” projects which are intended to help NHS staff benefit patients whose ill-health is influenced by them living in a cold home, he added.

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This article has been adapted from an article published in The Guardian.