Children in York are being admitted to hospital with hypothermia as their families struggle to keep their homes warm during the cost of living crisis, according to a public health chief.
Director of public health Sharon Stoltz said there had been at least two examples of small infants being taken to hospital with the condition – a medical emergency in which body temperature drops below 35ºC.
Health visitors in the city have been reporting a number of worrying trends linked to the cost of living crisis, including mothers struggling to feed their newborn children.
“We have significant concerns at the moment about families who have chosen to not breastfeed their infants but to use infant formula that then can’t afford to buy the infant formula,” Ms Stoltz said.
Cllr Carol Runciman, executive member for health, urged new mums not to dilute formula as it is “a very risky thing to do”.
Ms Stoltz said the council was looking at what support it could provide as food banks do not provide infant formula.
Cllr Janet Looker said: “I can’t actually think of a time when I have been so ashamed to be British. I think we are living in a most appalling society that seems to have lost any humanity.”
She was speaking as councillors and local health representatives discussed Healthwatch York’s latest report into the cost of living crisis during a meeting of the health and wellbeing board.
Healthwatch manager Sian Balsom said it was the first time the organisation had felt the need to put a content warning on one of its reports due to its distressing nature.
She added: “I think it is truly remarkable that we are having these conversations and truly awful that so many people in our community are deeply affected by this.”
Key findings in the report include:
- people are struggling to heat their homes, often resulting in the worsening of existing physical and/or mental health conditions
- people are reducing the amount of nutritious food that they buy and are skipping meals due to rising food costs
- and people reporting increased isolation due to a lack of money to spend on social and leisure activities.
Cllr Looker, a York councillor since 2003, predicted there would be a rise in deaths as a result.
She added: “There’s real worry that if people are trying to save on fuel and can’t afford to heat their homes, very new babies – equally as much as the poorly disabled and the very elderly – will suffer.
“Newborn babies are a particular issue – their ability to self-regulate their temperature isn’t very developed.”
Cllr Looker said she feared children’s development would be hit through a lack of food and warmth.
She added: “You can’t recapture some of those early goals. We’re already seeing children going through the education system who are suffering the impact from the Covid lockdowns and I think we’re going to see some of that again.”
Ms Balsom praised the work of York’s voluntary sector in trying to mitigate the impacts of the crisis.
She added: “I’m very aware that my colleagues in the voluntary sector are not hugely well paid, but they are digging into their own pockets to make sure people are not going without.”
Alison Semmence, chief executive of York CVS, said the sector itself was not immune from cost of living pressures.
The organisation’s electricity bill has risen from £11,000 to £43,000 – with the latest government help scheme contributing just £1,300 to that cost.