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Blackouts: No plans in place for disabled people

person holding a lantern in darkness

John Pettigrew and his team at The National Grid has been criticised by leading charities for not taking disabled people and their families into consideration with the proposed blackouts this winter.

The i newspaper understands there are no plans in place if the three hour power outages go ahead in January and February 2023 on weekdays if Russia cuts off gas supplies and the UK enters a cold snap.

If supplies are cut and the temperature drops it is feared blackouts will go ahead putting vulnerable people in critical danger.

A percentage of disabled people rely on electricity to power dialysis machines to keep them alive or medical equipment to keep them alive.

Gary Waterhouse, 50, from Lincolnshire, uses a positive airway pressure machine to help him breathe to keep his sleep apnoea under control.

He was told Pettigrew’s company has no plans in place for vulnerable people like himself if the blackouts go ahead because, at this stage, it’s “just speculation”.

“It may be speculation but they haven’t ruled blackouts out as a possibility and they’re not making any forward plans and thinking about what to do for people in our situation,” he told i.

“When it comes to people’s lives, I think there needs to be some proaction and some sort of backup plan in case it happens. It’s not going to cost much to have a plan in place just to put people’s minds at rest.”

Waterhouse is concerned if there is a series of blackouts he will struggle to breathe when he wakes up.

Gary Waterhouse with his wife

“There’s a chance of me choking without that oxygen being pumped into me,” he feared. “I don’t see how they could go ahead with the blackouts, not without endangering lives.”

Essential travel, NHS hospitals and essential businesses will be exempt from the blackouts but there is nothing in the code, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to imply private residents with specific needs will be exempt.

Waterhouse has joined his local network operator’s priority service register so he can have advanced warning if the power cuts go ahead, but there is no guarantee of a “continuous supply of electricity” for people who rely on it.

National charities are urging the National Grid to put plans into place for people like Gary if the blackouts go ahead.

Tom Marsland, policy manager at Scope, said: “Through the Priority Services Register energy, companies should know what equipment their disabled customers rely on and what would happen to them if they are cut off.

“Companies are under an obligation to warn their disabled customers on this register in advance of any power cut and prioritise them when they are trying to reconnect power.

“We hope that in any emergency the government and energy companies prioritise disabled people and their families who need power to stay alive.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said “contingency arrangements need to be planned” so older people with chronic health conditions can stay warm and those dependent on equipment such as dialysis machines can maintain their electricity supply.

She added: “If planned electricity outages are rolled out, it is essential that the national grid prioritises vulnerable households and completely exempts them from any planned outage.

“This should of course include anyone signed up to the Priority Services Register, but network operators must do more than this, going door-to-door if necessary to proactively identify vulnerable households who remain unregistered or who have not updated their status.”

Pete Revell from National Kidney Federation said: “Many patients are on the priority services register with their power providers and we hope the providers are going to make vulnerable customers aware in plenty of time that a power cut is going to happen so they can adjust their treatment time.”

The Energy Networks Association said: “In most cases, customers who are medically dependent on electricity will be familiar with the process and limitations of their equipment as power cuts can occur from time-to-time during a typical year, including during severe weather, for regular maintenance or due to damage and other routine faults.

“These customers often have backup power sources to keep vital equipment powered for several hours during a power failure.

“Customers who require a continuous supply of electricity for medical reasons and would need medical support during a power cut, should seek advice from their local health service provider.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “The UK has a secure and diverse energy system. We are confident in our plans to protect households and businesses, including vulnerable households, in the full range of scenarios this winter, in light of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.

“We continue to work closely with Ofgem and National Grid to prepare for the upcoming winter.”

John Pettigrew’s email address is [email protected]

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