The NHS is working with councils to improve “housing health” to boost the wellbeing of vulnerable residents after a report found poor housing is costing the health service £1.4 billion a year.
Home “MOTs”, helplines for those who suffer falls, stairlifts and heating systems are some of the schemes being implemented as part of the NHS’s Integrated Care Systems (ICS), which sees the health service join forces with local authorities to pool resources and budgets.
Cold housing can lead to chronic diseases like lung and heart diseases and poor mental health, as well as heart attacks, strokes and falls.
The report by the Kings Fund and National Housing Federation suggested that reducing excess cold in homes to an acceptable level would save the NHS around £848 million a year and reducing all falls in the home could save it £435 million.
NHS costs could be reduced by £2 billion per year if poor-quality homes with health dangers, such as cold, damp and falls hazards, were brought up to standard.
Research has also found that three-quarters (75%) of deaths related to falls happen at home and represent up to 25% of ambulance calls to older adults.
One study showed simple home modifications such as installing handrails, outside lighting and slip-resistant surfaces outside, which cost as little as a few hundred pounds, resulted in a 39% reduction in injuries and a 26% drop in medical treatment.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Well designed homes that are warm and hazard free reduce the risk of accidents and falls as well as major cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalisations.
“They are a key element of a healthy childhood and an independent old age. That’s why the NHS is stepping up to work with our council, voluntary sector and housing colleagues who can make a huge difference to the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”
In Blaby, Leicestershire, the county and district councils have worked with the NHS to develop and fund housing support service Lightbulb, which provides housing MOTs to identify immediate housing safety risks and make adaptations such as ramps or room alterations, and tackle problems such as poor heating and hoarding.
It provides grants, advice and information on wider support and works with local hospitals to support discharge and prevent readmissions.
The project led to a reduction in use of some services by 66%, and lower A&E attendances and emergency admissions.
By last September the scheme was estimated to have saved the NHS more than £435,000 and has been extended across the county.
In Buckinghamshire, Wycombe District Council’s Healthy Homes on Prescription allows medical or social care practitioners to refer patients for simple, fast-tracked housing solutions to support independent living at home such as stairlifts or a central heating system.
People with a long-term chronic health condition can apply for up to £5,000 without means testing to help support their physical and mental wellbeing at home, preventing hospital admission and GP visits. It is already saving the NHS £53,476 and social care £132,984.