Hospitals across the country have set up food banks and are offering ‘stressed’ emergency loans as health officials warn staff are ‘struggling to feed their families’.
Six NHS trusts have set up food banks or launched food voucher schemes for workers as part of efforts to help staff cope with the rising cost of living, while others have confirmed they were considering moving.
Some hospitals have also started offering emergency loans to help staff under financial strain, while others have increased payments to workers for travel expenses.
The Cavell Nurses’ Trust, which supports UK nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants in times of financial crisis, said The Independent it had seen a 140% increase in the number of people seeking help in the first four months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
Graham Revie, chairman of the union committee at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said staff were already being shelled out by rising fuel prices, adding: “Now we are seeing some struggling to feed their families.”
Professor Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modeling at London South Bank University, said The Independent“I have been approached by several NHS organizations who are very concerned about the impact of the cost of living on their staff. Some are considering starting food exchanges or food banks, and others are considering other ways to help, such as with transportation costs.
Kate Jarman, director of general affairs at the University Hospital of Milton Keynes, said The Independent the hospital had set up a community kitchen a few months ago to help staff who may be struggling to eat.
“We are also piloting the provision of wellness kits containing food, hygiene and other essentials so that staff in need can discreetly access work,” she said, adding: “We will continue to talk to our staff about how best to support them with the rising cost of living and do whatever we can to help.”
A senior source in London, whose trust is considering launching a food swap scheme, said workers had also asked about clothing banks and clothing swaps.
They added: ‘We’ve also had an increase in staff who have found themselves in a position where they can’t pay rent and have found themselves in the difficult position of having to move because they can’t afford where they are. living and not having the means to live in London.
“Then their work is called into question because they cannot travel, because it is very expensive. So we have seen an increase in staff trying to access hospital accommodation, which is quite limited. There has been a bit of pressure on hospitals to try to keep their staff housed. »
Responding to reports, MP Wes Streeting, shadow secretary of state for health and social care, said: ‘What kind of country have we become under the Tories where NHS workers, the heroes of the pandemic who have all protected, can not afford food?
“The government’s response to the cost of living crisis is to cause more suffering by raising taxes on workers, including hardworking NHS staff.
“The work would put up to £600 back in people’s pockets by cutting energy bills, paid for with a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.”
Trusts such as Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, Norfolk Community Health and Care, West Hertfordshire, Dartford and Gravesham have also recently set up staff food banks and food voucher services. Sheffield University Hospitals established a staff food bank in 2020, and Birmingham University Hospitals have had one for several years.
The CEO of a Midlands hospital said his hardship loans were already in place and the trust expected demand to rise.
In a board report this month, the Royal United Hospitals Bath Foundation Trust said: ‘We already know that our staff are asking for financial support through unions and [the employee assistance programme] and that they use food banks. We are also aware that a number of our nurses have already received grants from the Cavell Trust. It is therefore imperative that we take swift action to support all of our staff.
As part of its support plans, the trust has also pledged to maintain free parking and provide food bank vouchers.
Mr Revie of the RCN said: ‘It is an outrageous situation and a big admission that the NHS knows how its workers are struggling as the government denies them fair pay.’
He added: ‘Thousands of nurses leave the profession every year, with many citing salary as the reason.
“Ministers must take notice and acknowledge the reality of those they relied on during the pandemic, and offer a fair pay rise, otherwise even more nurses will struggle to cope with the cost of living, and the number of people leaving the profession will continue to grow. ”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “With inflation reaching a 40-year high and the cost of living rising, health officials are of course doing all they can to help their staff and their families to get through these difficult times.”
A government spokesperson said: ‘We are hugely grateful to all of our NHS staff and recognize the pressures caused by the rising cost of living.
“We are taking action worth over £22bn in 2022-23 to help households meet energy costs and to ensure people keep more of their money – including cutting fuel taxes, raising the threshold at which people start paying National Insurance and lowering taxes, for the lowest-paid Universal Credit workers so they can retain greater part of what they earn.