“Profound” public health challenges and “aggressive” funding cuts are risking health around the UK, the Royal College of Nursing has claimed ahead of a debate on the issue at its annual conference.
A survey of over 10,000 nursing staff, carried out ahead of RCN congress, suggested many were treating patients whose health was being affected by lifestyle factors.
“Inadequate or unsafe housing has a huge effect on health”
It found 38% of respondents had seen patients with their health affected by malnutrition or food poverty. In addition, 41% said they had seen patients with their health affected by inadequate or unsafe housing, while 21% had seen patients affected by a lack of heating.
Meanwhile, the RCN said half of those surveyed believed that the proportion of their patients who needed care for preventable conditions had increased during the course of their career.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said the survey had revealed the “huge increase in ill health” that could have been prevented.
“Lifestyle choices have a part to play, but many of the problems identified by nurses as affecting the health of their patients come down to the very difficult lives many of them lead,” she said.
“Inadequate or unsafe housing has a huge effect on health, as does overcrowding, food poverty, overwork, unemployment and family breakdown,” said Ms Davies. “Dealing with just one of these problems can take its toll on both mental and physical health.”
She added: “The RCN’s major worry is that efforts to tackle the issues and to help people live healthier lives are in danger of going backwards because of aggressive public health funding cuts.”
One nurse who responded to the survey said: “The elderly are becoming more socially isolated due to financial constraints from the government which impacts greatly on their physical and mental health.”
Another said: “I work with homeless and drug and alcohol abusers, and have seen their lives become more difficult due to lack of resources and services being pulled out due to lack of funding.”
Congress will be discussing the following resolution on public health funding on Tuesday morning: “That this meeting of Congress asks RCN Council to insist that the government reinstates adequate funding for public health”