LONDON (Reuters) - Sitting next to her dialysis machine which pumps clean blood around her body for four hours every day, Dawn White says she fears Britain's spiralling energy costs means she will no longer be able to afford the price of her life-saving treatment.
"Without my machine five times a week, 20 hours, I will die," 59-year-old White told Reuters, while lying on a bed beside the dialysis machine in a purpose-built cabin in the garden of her home in southeast England.
White, who has renal failure, is one of 5,000 people who have dialysis at home, relying on a machine to filter their blood and perform the vital job their kidneys can no longer do, according to the patient advocacy group Kidney Care UK.
On Friday, Britain will raise its energy price cap, meaning average annual bills for gas and electricity will jump from October, with further hikes set for January and April, and Kidney Care warn spiralling energy costs could cause major problems for those like White.
"Costs are going up this week and they're going to go up again soon, and unless this is sorted out, it becomes a crisis,” Kidney Care UK policy director Fiona Loud told Reuters.
The government has promised action to help those facing the predicament, saying on Monday the about six million disabled people in Britain would receive a one-off 150 pound Cost of Living payment next month on top of other financial help with rising energy bills.
"We know disabled people can face additional costs, which is why we are acting to help reduce the financial pressures on the most vulnerable," said Chloe Smith, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work.
But, for White and her husband of 36 years, Paul, who cares for her full time and no longer works himself, there is fear about what the next few months will bring.
"I'm very anxious about the winter," said White, as tubes pumped blood in and out of her arm, filtering through the dialysis machine. "We don't have a lot of money coming in and I would have to make that decision about going back into the hospital to be able to pay for the house bills."
The couple’s income is limited to a carers allowance and government disability payments, and she estimates the cost of running the dialysis machine is 200 pounds a month, at current prices, which does not include energy use elsewhere in their home.
They have cut back on energy use and are preparing to reduce the use of their central heating to try to save money.
"We can't do any more than we have done I'm afraid,” 61-year-old Paul White says, as he looks at appliances around the kitchen. "We could wash up by hand if it comes to it, but then you've still got the expenditure of the gas boiler."
If the couple cannot keep up with the higher bills, Dawn will have to receive treatment at the local hospital, which only has capacity to treat her for 12 hours a week.
She said that would leave her feeling less well, reduce her independence and potentially make her less viable for a potentially life-changing transplant should her condition deteriorate.
Loud explained that the state-funded National Health Service hospital trusts should be reimbursing patients for the cost of their treatment, but that many people, like Dawn, have not yet received any funds.
"People can't wait three months to be paid back while it runs through the finance department. It needs to be now," Loud said.
(Reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by William Maclean)
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