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04
May

Housing associations and NHS Trusts should work hand-in-hand


Health and housing organisations from across the south came together to promote healthy living and fight illness at a special conference led by one of the region’s foremost housing, care and support providers, Radian in conjunction with the University of Southampton.
The event which took place at The Nightingale Building, Southampton was driven, in part, by statistics from Public Health England which show people in the city have lower life expectancy than the UK average.
The conference was attended by over 100 health providers, housing bodies and Radian residents keen to hear discussions based on the need for housing associations to start working with their local NHS Trusts to get the ball rolling with an integrated approach to health and social care.

Keynote speaker Lord Hunt, Labour’s health spokesman, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, and President of the Royal Society for Public Health, led the discussions. 

Lord Hunt outlined just some of challenges being faced by the NHS across the country. These include population growth; the slow pace of technology meaning new innovations can’t be put into practice and growing mental health pressures, as well as budget cuts that together are affecting the overall efficiency of the service. The NHS is currently working at 0.8% efficiency but needs to increase this by 3% in five years to bridge the funding gap, and 70% of funding is swallowed up in staff costs alone. Increasing this efficiency without compromising the quality of service and staff is very difficult, so collaborative working with housing associations to help alleviate this problem and increase efficiency is one way of helping.

Lord Hunt explained that a joined-up approach is currently only happening in small pockets at a national level. For it to work effectively it needs to be actively taken on by Clinical Commissioning Groups and other health and wellbeing bodies to see the true benefits start to unfold.

The health service has received an increase in funds of £8 billion, so why is it facing a potential meltdown? Hunt stated that in 2008 1.9 million of the UK population faced long term health conditions. By 2018, illnesses like these are expected to increase by 1 million, affecting 2.9 million people. The pressure on growing demand matched by the need for quality of service is a hard battle to face. Moreover, with regards to the mental health service, the amount of money invested is not nearly enough to match the growth in service requirement.

Closer collaboration between housing services and the NHS is one way forward, said Lord Hunt. “Access to good housing is a major component of good health. It is self-evident that when housing and health have the chance to work together and help each other, there will be good results. I know there are challenges. When the NHS first began in 1948 it was dealing with short term infectious diseases, now the UK is faced with an ageing population with more complex long term illnesses that the NHS is struggling to cope with in a modern world. With recent budget cuts and more pressures on the NHS than ever, it is important that it works hand-in-glove with housing and social care.”

Patrick Vernon OBE, Health Partnership Co-ordinator at the National Housing Federation and Non-Executive Director of Camden and Islington Mental Health Foundation Trust added: “Mental health issues are increasing and it’s those individuals who are not provided with the right care and treatment that go on to face repeated housing evictions. If health and housing could work together to ensure that housing association staff have the right training to work with these residents we would be taking a further step in the right direction.”

It was noted amongst the Q&A panel which included Lord Hunt, Patrick Vernon, Dr Nick Maguire, Deputy Head of Psychology (Education) at Southampton University and Carol Bode, Radian Group Chair and Non-Executive of The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, that health and housing have mutual problems in the sense that they face budget issues that prevent the sectors working freely together.  Each has its own challenges and limited budgets, so sharing the pot to prevent doubling up on costs could be hugely beneficial.

Moreover, now that the recent devolution deal in Greater Manchester means a transfer of certain powers and responsibilities from national government, this movement of power into the hands of local decision makers is the start of meeting the needs of the people who live and work in there.

Carol Bode commented: “Manchester is the first region in England to benefit from the transfer of power from national government to local decision makers and, from the beginning of this month became the first region to take control of its combined health and social care budgets.
“This shows that the more we can do at a community level, the more effectively and efficiently we can work together. It is about gathering the right local influencers around the right table to kick start a conversation about how, collectively, we can tailor budgets and priorities to meet the needs of residents and improve the health and wellbeing for the region. Manchester has done it and this is direction that we should now be moving in.” 

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