Is there a perfect storm brewing for health in the social housing sector?
Many consider the NHS to be one of our country’s most invaluable resources, yet it has found itself under immense strain for a long time, a pressure that is only set to increase. Economically, the NHS has always been a battleground, as governments fight to secure the future of the NHS whilst simultaneously trying to be cost-efficient. Joe Bradbury of Housing Association Magazine explores what the housing sector can do to help.
The current Conservative government has pledged an extra £8bn in funding by 2020, which is the minimum amount NHS England boss Simon Stevens says it will need in order to survive.
The current state of affairs
In response to the latest NHS performance data, Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary said “A&E waiting times are now at their worst level since records began, which is a damning indictment of years of austerity and wider cuts imposed upon health and care services.
“Ministerial incompetence has left our NHS with chronic shortages of NHS staff with no clear idea of how to sort this out.
“Instead of putting patients first with a clear plan to restore the A&E standard, ministers are looking at scrapping it altogether in the teeth of opposition from the doctors who actually work in A&E departments.
“The figures reveal an NHS in desperate crisis and a Government failing patients.”
Fuel poverty exacerbates the issue
Fuel poverty is often thought of as a financial problem, but it actually poses several health and wellbeing issues for an affected tenant. Whilst researchers, medical experts and politicians acknowledge the serious health implications of an inadequately heated home, action is often delayed or dismissed entirely, resulting in an increased pressure within our crowded hospitals.
Needless to say, healthy and renewable methods of heating the home, such as heat pumps, are part of the solution. By extracting renewable energy from outdoor air, heat pumps are best suited to more continuous running, and provide a more constant level of comfort for vulnerable residents. Heat pumps allow tenants to heat all of their homes cost effectively, rather than just one or two rooms, which is better not only for their property but their health also.
There were an estimated 43,900 excess deaths in England and Wales during winter 2014/15, most of which involved people over 75. However, studies show that it isn’t just the elderly that fall victim to cold weather each year. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal there were 110 more deaths among children in winter than at any other point that year.
England alone currently has around 2.5 million fuel-poor households. That’s one in ten families that cannot afford to heat their home. Fuel poverty is a perpetual annual cycle of misery for those affected; one that feeds a steady stream of patients through the revolving doors of a hospital.
What role will housing play in saving the NHS?
In a bid to try and struggle through the winter many tenants resort to either using their central heating sporadically, or using small space heaters instead.
Unfortunately, this often leads to high levels of condensation within a household, where small sections of the house are warm and the surrounding rooms are cold. Where cold air meets warm surfaces is the perfect environment for mould and damp to flourish, leaving poor health implications and damaged property in its wake; plaster soon crumbles and requires replacement after being subjected to excess moisture for long periods of time, furnishings can be ruined by mould. There are so many consequences to an inefficient home. Indeed, if left unchecked for long enough, damp can actually damage the structural integrity of a house. The house can then be condemned until it is fit once more to be inhabited.
It has been estimated that for every £1 spent on retrofitting fuel poor homes, the NHS could save an estimated £0.42p by reducing the health risks associated with fuel poverty and draughty properties.
Evaluations undertaken by both ‘Warm Front’ and ‘the Scottish CHP’ indicated that residents with bedroom temperatures at 21°C are 50% less likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those with temperatures of 15°C.
According to the NHS, keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.
With this in mind, it seems that the biggest way the housing sector can alleviate some of the pressure that we are all undeniably responsible for is by ensuring its housing stock consists of warm, healthy and efficient homes.
But we cannot do it alone. Housing professionals need to see real commitment from their government to help tackle the issue of fuel poverty going forward with more sustainable and long term solutions, such as encouraging housebuilders and landlords to implement energy saving and efficient heating products into their housing stock. Our NHS depends upon it!
This article and other blogs by HA’s Joe Bradbury appear regularly on Mitsubishi Electric's 'The Hub', which contains useful and informative articles on legislation, technology and sustainability.