Britain is trying to ease pressure on its health services ahead of a winter that will bring extraordinary strain to households as energy bills soar.
The National Health Service has instructed hospitals to prepare a public awareness campaign calling for people to seek help only in a genuine emergency, the Telegraph reported, citing a letter from officials. Such an instruction has never been issued so early in the year, the newspaper said.
“We have begun planning for the coming winter earlier than usual, recognizing pressure on the NHS is likely to be substantial, particularly in urgent and emergency care,” said the letter from Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, and fellow officials, citied by the Telegraph.
It adds to concerns that health workers are already facing strains usually seen in the depths of winter after more than two years of Covid-19 disruption and mounting cost-of-living pressures.
Europe has been hit hard by rocketing energy bills as Russia, historically the continent’s biggest natural gas supplier, slashed exports amid tensions over its invasion of Ukraine.
Millions of Britons are poised for fuel poverty this winter as household energy bills are set to rise about 80% in October, weeks after a new prime minister — either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak — takes office next month. There are already more than 6 million people on the waiting list for NHS treatment, the highest on record.
Preparing for the crunch, UK ministers are also planning a rapid overseas hiring spree to plug critical holes in the NHS and social care, the Times said in a separate report.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has told an international recruitment task force to bring in thousands of staff before winter, the newspaper reported, citing information sent to potential suppliers. The government also wants to see if companies are interested in and could implement a central recruitment hub, the Times added.