63% of healthcare workers choose between food and fuel, Florence survey finds

More than 8 in 10 healthcare workers participating in a new Florence survey report a decline in mental health, with nearly 40% experiencing serious symptoms.

Our cost of living survey, taken by 1000 healthcare professionals in October 2022, monitors the impact of rising prices and stagnant wages on nurses, carers and support workers. We reveal some of the most shocking results in this article.

A personal crisis for healthcare workers

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the cost of living crisis, you’re not alone. According to a recent McKinsey & Company poll, 58% of people in the UK plan to slash the amount they spend on gifts this Christmas. Depressingly, 8% of respondents don’t intend to spend any money on Christmas at all.

Driven in part by astronomical gas prices and the war in Ukraine, UK inflation topped 10.1% in September 2022. In contrast, the Bank of England target for “acceptable” inflation is 2%, but it expects the consumer price index to hit 11% before things get any better.

Phrases like “financial disaster” and “growing economic crisis” appear frequently in headlines about Britain’s current predicament. For many healthcare workers, the situation feels personal – perhaps even bleak.

63% choose between food and fuel

Our survey found 63% of healthcare workers now have to choose between food and fuel. In real terms, they’re torn between putting petrol in the car and putting a meal on the table, and frankly, that’s unsustainable.

Healthcare workers and other ordinary people pay 14.6% more for groceries than they did a year ago. Meanwhile, per-unit prices for electricity and gas have doubled in the last 12 months.

As a result, more people than ever live in fuel poverty, with average monthly energy bills for medium-use households exceeding £200. Factor in historically low pay and you’re left with much less money for the weekly grocery shop.

Nearly 1 in 5 use food banks

A full 14% of nurses and carers said that since the beginning of the crisis, they’d begun using food banks, and 30% knew colleagues who relied on them.

Generally speaking, food insecurity in the UK has risen since the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network, for example, have seen an 81% increase in utilisation over the last five years, with 2.1 million emergency food parcels given out in the year 2021–2022.

8 in 10 report mental health decline

Unsurprisingly, the cost of living crisis has taken a profound toll on mental health. Almost 80% of nurses, carers and support workers who took our survey reported a decline in psychological well-being, with a further two in five experiencing serious mental health symptoms.

Nine in ten respondents thought that the ongoing crisis would affect mental health in the general population as well, with 81% anticipating an uptick in depression, 78% predicting an increase in stress and 74% preparing for a rise in anxiety diagnoses.

79% anticipate extreme NHS strain

Nearly 8 in 10 study participants expected that the NHS would face “intolerable pressure” as the crisis went on. Roughly two thirds thought that patients would miss appointments because of transport costs and that wait times would increase across the board.

The latest British Medical Association figures support this grim analysis. Of the 7 million people waiting for treatment in August 2022, 2.85 million had been in stasis for more than 18 weeks and 387,257 had been waiting more than a year.

More than 50% feel burned out

More than half of nurses and carers who took part in the survey said that they’d already taken time off to deal with stress and burnout. Over a third felt mental health-related staff absences had gone up significantly.

When it came to pay, we found almost unanimous support (94%) for a wage rise in line with inflation. Meanwhile, 28% of study participants planned to leave the healthcare sector for more lucrative careers.

75% expect elderly patients to suffer

Over half the nurses and carers we polled thought that people would need to use NHS services, including ambulances, more often as a direct result of the cost of living crisis. Respondents felt that chest infections, diabetes complications and other illnesses would become more common.

Even worse, 75% of participating frontline healthcare workers thought that elderly patients and care home residents would suffer especially badly. A further 64% expected that people with pre-existing health conditions would deteriorate, while 45% felt particularly worried about children.

7 in 10 think NHS funding must increase

We found overwhelming support for an increase in NHS funding among study participants. Nearly 70% thought the NHS needed more money for critical services, while 53% wanted the government to produce a coherent, long-term plan to protect the NHS.

Finally, two in five healthcare workers were in favour of a greater number of training grants designed to bring new people into the industry and solve staff shortages.

What’s the solution?

Inadequate wages, a broken energy system, conflict-driven inflation and other factors have led to the current cost of living crisis. Real-world pay hasn’t gone up for years, and as a result, many people – including healthcare workers and their families – have been left in an impossible bind.

“The cost of living has risen at an alarming rate, but salaries are not increasing to match that cost of living,” says Florence chief nurse Fiona Millington. “Nurses and carers, like every other profession, are finding themselves in a situation where it’s more difficult to make ends meet.”

Florence founder Dr Charles Armitage agrees. “It’s completely unacceptable that frontline nurses and healthcare staff are choosing between food and fuel,” he says. “Everyone has the right to basic necessities, whether food, fuel, housing or otherwise.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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