Housing and Health – How can we achieve real integration?

By Tom Allen - on 27/05/2015

Preventative health strategies could be a unique role for housing providers wishing to integrate more with the health sector. HACT's Housing and Health Intern Tom Allen discusses how the housing sector needs to start addressing the health requirements of their customers.

The housing sector seems to be perpetually frustrated in its attempts to integrate more closely with health. Since I have been working as HACT’s Health and Housing Intern, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard that health is failing to recognise the potential gains from closer integration. Doubtless there is some truth in this view point, but it’s also quite easy to say – harder to change.

A lot of the work we have been focused on seeks to improve the use of evidence in the housing sector so that we can start to talk in a language which health will respect. But this is by no means the only change which is needed to deliver closer joint-working. It’s also really important to think honestly about what the offer is from housing. What differentiates housing associations from the multitude of providers competing for involvement in health services?

Typically, the housing sector thinks about health through the lens of care and support activities and community investment initiatives such as well-being programmes. Whilst there is clearly potential for greater collaboration in these areas, there is also a risk that housing is failing to utilise its greatest asset – its unique position providing general needs housing for a section of society which includes many of the health sectors key targets.

In conjunction with the Dementia Services Development Centre HACT have produced guidance on developing a strong strategy to address dementia. Strategies like this will always involve specialist services, but it is also important not to overlook the potential gains of a preventative strategy across all areas of a housing associations work. This sort of activity is out of the comfort zone of Care and Support services, but has the potential to show health services the unique role housing can play. However, this should not be the main motivation for incorporating health related activities into standard practice. True integration will not be achieved if housing continues to see health as a source of financial support for all its good work. Instead housing associations need to recognise that, with increasingly vulnerable tenants, they will benefit directly from addressing the health needs of their customers. And as an added bonus it’s the right thing to do!

The challenges posed by dementia, provide a good example of the benefits of incorporating health related activities into standard practice. Some housing associations have provided training to all staff in recognising dementia risk factors. In this way, there is a means for normal business processes to impact on resident’s health. If the maintenance team, who interact regularly with residents, are aware of risk factors there is potential to intervene before a crisis occurs.

NHS England’s Five Year Forward Review makes clear that a move to more preventative services will be crucial to the future of the NHS in particular to avoid the widening of health inequalities. This is crucial because prevention is about providing solutions before a crisis emerges and more drastic forms of support are required. Housing associations are best placed to address these issues when they incorporate health and wellbeing strategies into their general business model rather than seeing them as an add on to their main work as landlords. 

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