OPINION - The NHS and energy bills: this is going to hurt

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

Hospitals require a lot of energy to run. There are the usual lights and heating, but also those fancy machines keeping people alive in variously impressive and non-optional ways. Therefore, any sudden and sustained rise in energy prices will have a deleterious impact on already stretched budgets.

A report published in the British Medical Journal lays bare the dramatic consequences. It finds that some NHS trusts are braced for a 200 per cent rise in their combined gas and electricity bills next year. That translates into major price increases.

London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital said it anticipated a combined bill of around £650,000 a month, nearly twice its current rate. While Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust told the Journal it was expecting to pay an additional £2 million a month.

More money spent on keeping the lights on invariably means less is available for clinical purposes. And it’s not as if the NHS were in a good way at the moment, with record waiting lists, ambulance times and staff vacancies.

And this problem is being replicated right across the public sector. Unlike households, public bodies are ineligible for Ofgem’s energy price cap. So schools, libraries, courts – really public buildings of all types – will see budgets further squeezed.

The same issue is facing businesses, of course. Otherwise viable firms risk going under, being quoted bills many times higher than current prices. A report by SME insights last week suggested more than half of small businesses fear these costs could force them to close next year. Something’s got to give. And it won’t be cheap.

Remember, the furlough scheme cost £70 billion. Labour’s plan to freeze energy bills for just six months comes in, according to their figures, at roughly £30 billion. And six months won’t cut it. Oh, and we’re on the precipice of a recession.

The UK’s debt to GDP ratio stands at roughly 100 per cent. It will rise sharply. We can achieve this in two ways. Either by spending tens of billions of pounds to support households, public services and businesses through the next few years. Or, by allowing an even deeper recession, firms to go to the wall, and borrow more to counter reduced tax receipts. Prime Ministers rarely have the luxury of choosing between good and bad.

Elsewhere in the paper, the United Nations has said China’s discriminatory detention of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.

The long-awaited report calls for an urgent international response over allegations of torture and other rights violations by Beijing. This investigation by the BBC earlier this year is some of the best reporting on the harrowing situation. The Chinese government denies the allegations.

In the comment pages, deputy Homes and Property Editor Meghann Murdock says home buyers are now unlikely to consider any new build that doesn’t have the highest energy efficiency rating as the cost of living crisis really takes hold. While Sarfraz Manzoor, who never learnt how to swim, reveals he now bitterly regrets it.

And finally, how many potentially glorious picnics have been ruined by rubbish food options near parks? Those days are over. From artful sandwich shops to family-run delis, Clare Finney delivers the perfect places to stock up next to London parks.

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