This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

Soaring Prices and NHS Waiting Lists Take a Toll on Britons

Rising prices negatively affected the mental health of around a third of British adults, whilst around 1 in 11 said there were times when they could not afford to buy food, according to new figures.

Difficulties getting NHS treatment had a significant bearing on quality of life, and around 1 in 5 people reporting a delayed or cancelled appointment in the previous month, the Office for National Statistics found.

The survey, Tracking the impact of winter pressures in Great Britain, asked 4053 individuals about their recent experiences to examine how increases in the cost of living and access to NHS services impacted their lives from 18-29 January. Results suggested that when it came to inflation:

  • 34% agreed or strongly agreed that inflationary pressures had negatively affected their mental health
  • 9% of British adults said they had often, or sometimes, run out of food and were unable to afford to restock in the past month
  • 13% reported cutting down on meal size, or skipping meals, because they didn't have enough money for food

NHS Waiting Times

Difficulties accessing NHS services, exacerbated by winter pressures on the system, were also taking a toll. Of those waiting for NHS treatment, 70% said this had negatively affected their life, either strongly or slightly, whilst 18% reported that an NHS appointment had been cancelled or delayed in the previous month.

Of those waiting for an NHS appointment, 65% reported a wait of up to 6 months, 12% had been waiting between 7 and 11 months, and 17% had been on a list for a year or longer.

Respondents were also asked about the ease of getting a GP appointment, with 58% saying they received one within a week, 16% within 1-2 weeks, 8% within 2-3 weeks, and 5% reporting a wait of more than 3 weeks.

The latest analysis was the fourth in a series of publications reporting findings from the new winter survey, and tracked the experience of the same British adults who took part in surveys between 22 November and 18 December 2022. Across the three winter months, the ONS found that between 19% and 23% reported that they were only occasionally, hardly ever, or never, able to keep comfortably warm in the previous 2-week period. Around half of people surveyed said they were buying less when shopping for food.

Despite a 0.4% dip in the consumer prices index in January, pressures on the cost of living remained, statisticians said. Higher prices, reflected in CPI of 10.1%, were also impacting the quality of food bought, with 27% of respondents saying that they often or sometimes were unable to afford to eat a balanced diet, the survey found.

Rates of Poor Mental Health 'Could be Higher'

Commenting on the findings to Medscape News UK, Andy Bell, interim chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: "It is worrying but not surprising that a third of people in Britain say that the cost of living crisis has affected their mental health. We know that financial difficulties are a major cause of poor mental health, and it is likely that rates are far higher among the least well off. 

"It is also a matter of concern that 1 in 7 report their mental health being affected by waits for hospital appointments. Too many people with physical health problems have unmet mental health needs for whom the right support could make a big difference to their overall wellbeing and quality of life." 

The Trussell Trust, in association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, today launched a campaign calling on the Government to ensure that the basic rate of universal credit is sufficient to cover essential purchases. The charities said that current payments were too low, resulting in 90% of universal credit recipients going without necessities.

Medscape News UK has approached the Department of Health and Social Care to comment on the ONS findings.