Fuel poverty and sickle cell: Results from the Keeping Warm study

Tackling fuel poverty in the homes of people with sickle cell disease could reduce debilitating attacks and save significant money for the NHS, according to a study by Sheffield Hallam University funded by the Chesshire Lehmann Fund.

Exposure to cold is a highly common trigger for a sickle cell crisis. Despite this, the report found that people with SCD find it particularly challenging to stay warm at home. Study participants reported that maintaining a steady income to keep up with fuel payments was challenging. Employment was difficult to maintain due to frequent episodes of illness, yet they found it problematic to qualify for disability benefits because SCD is a fluctuating condition. Participants also reported being sanctioned for not signing on whilst they were hospitalised, resulting in disconnection from heating, not being able to buy food and thus the immediate risk of being re-admitted to hospital on being discharged.

The report recommends investing in tackling fuel poverty as a way of reducing attacks and reducing the need for hospitalisations.

Dr Anna Cronin de Chavez, from the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Sheffield Hallam University, said:

“The cost of one hospitalisation of a few days for a sickle cell crisis is seven times the cost of an average annual fuel bill, making warm interventions potentially a highly cost-effective measure.

“Apart from saving the NHS significant investment at a time when it is coming under increasing pressure, action to reduce fuel poverty is vital to reduce the suffering of people who face unique challenges in keeping warm due to their debilitating illness.

“Unfortunately this isn’t a unique problem. There are also indications that other people with fluctuating conditions such as MS, Parkinsons, arthritis and mental health problems may experience similar difficulties in staying warm and healthy at home.”

The ‘Keeping Warm with Sickle Cell Disease Research Project’ looked at the challenges people with SCD have in staying warm enough at home. 15 adults with SCD or parents of a child with SCD from Yorkshire, Manchester and the Midlands were interviewed and home temperature readings were conducted as part of the project. Multiple examples of where cold exposures led directly to hospitalisation were cited.

Further information about the Keeping Warm project can be found here.