Marie Curie report calls for more help for medical equipment users with their electricity bills

A new report by the end-of-life charity Marie Curie highlights the impacts that rising energy costs have on those living with a terminal illness, particularly those reliant upon medical devices that they use at home. It provides further evidence that more targeted support should be provided to those energy users, as highlighted in our paper: How can we better support medical equipment users with their electricity costs?

Our paper detailed many of the issues reported by patients using medical equipment – such as oxygen concentrators and dialysis machines – eligible for NHS electricity rebate schemes. This included the inconsistent approach to cost reimbursement by different NHS Trusts, the frequent misalignment between energy prices and the tariffs set for medical equipment, and the slow pace of repayment, which often leaves patients to cover the upfront electricity costs charged by their suppliers.

Marie Curie’s latest report -“One Charge Too Many” – reinforces our concerns

As well as describing the inadequacies of the electricity cost support provided to medical equipment users, One Charge Too Many includes a valuable attempt to quantify the scale of this issue in the absence of data from the NHS Trusts. It also highlights the implications for the NHS of patients being unable to afford to run their medical equipment at home, particularly the subsequent pressure on hospital bed space and associated costs.

As part of the report’s recommendations, Marie Curie advocates the introduction of a social tariff, joining other disability charities such as Scope and Kidney Care UK, who have long been campaigning for such. But alongside this tariff, the report makes a case for improving the tailored electricity cost support available to medical equipment users, suggesting, as we did, that the payments could be credited rather than reimbursed to patients and the possibility of expanding the support to incorporate other medical technologies ought to be explored.

We also thought that consideration could be given to different delivery and funding models. For example, in the interests of consistency and building on the experience of similar schemes elsewhere in the world, we suggested that the scheme might be administered by an independent body, operating between the patient and the supplier, managing applications, and ensuring the appropriate level of support is applied for each type of equipment and the extent of its usage.

While the funding of any such enhanced scheme/s could continue to be provided through the NHS, it is also reasonable to consider recovering costs through electricity bills instead. This would, for example, be consistent with the funding of the Warm Homes Discount, which offers a £150 rebate to fuel-poor pensioners and other benefits recipients. The levelisation arrangements that would need to be in place in this model are one way the Retail Energy Code might have a direct role to play once the scheme was in operation.

What are the next steps?

It is encouraging to see increasing recognition of the need to improve the existing arrangements. This recognition has extended into the political sphere, and we were pleased to see our report discussed in Parliament in May as part of a wider debate about financial support for disabled people. During that debate, and since in response to Written Questions from backbench MPs, ministers have confirmed that they are looking at this issue as part of a new approach to consumer protection, which may be introduced next April.

While energy prices have stabilised, analysts expect them to remain far above their pre-crisis levels next year and addressing the limitations of the existing support arrangements should remain a priority.  We will continue to engage with policymakers and lend our support to further work in this important area of consumer protection.

Learn more

You can read the report from Marie Curie – “One Charge Too Many” –  here.

You can read our report – “Support for Medical Equipment Users: A New Approach to Meeting Electricity Costs”- here.

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