Warmer homes mean fewer GP visits for lung patients

Fitting insulation and new boilers to the homes of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the North East of England has cut their visits to the doctor by nearly a third. This is one of the early findings of an energy saving pilot scheme being run by social business Gentoo Group, in partnership with North East Clinical Commissioning Groups.

The first set of results of the scheme, where energy saving measures have been installed to the homes of NHS patients, have over the first six months of the project shown:

  • A 28% reduction in the number of GP appointments
  • A 33% reduction in outpatient appointments.

In comparison, a control group with similar health problems showed an increase in GP attendances over the same six month period.

The project also set out to monitor the environmental impacts of the energy saving measures fitted to the homes of the patients. So far Gentoo has discovered that households have reduced their gas consumption by up to 36% and are saving up to £30 on their energy bill every month.

Homes in the pilot underwent an energy performance assessment before and after the energy saving measures were installed and their Energy Performance Certificate ratings have moved from a G rating to a D. Data loggers installed in the patients homes’ have recorded up to 14% increases in bedroom temperature and up to 42% increases in living room temperature.

The pilot is part of a framework where GPs from North East Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) can prescribe a suite of energy efficiency improvements to patients with COPD, a condition exacerbated by living in cold, damp homes. The pilot consists of six Sunderland-based privately owned and privately rented households which were identified by their local GP as suffering from COPD. A specialised team from Gentoo worked with each patient to carry out an energy efficiency assessment of their home to establish what energy saving improvements could be fitted.

Several energy saving measures were retrofitted to homes, including:

  • Replacing single glazed windows with double glazing
  • Installing A rated energy efficient boilers
  • Loft and cavity insulation
  • Internal or external wall insulation were applicable
  • Draught-proofing.

Gentoo carried out the improvements and continues to monitor the environmental improvements to the home, while Sunderland CCG and its GPs continue to measure any possible improvements in the patient’s health.

Paul Burns, green futures manager at Gentoo Group and who has led the pilot, said: “These results include those taken during the summer months, so we’re hoping the energy efficient measures made will make a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of those taking part in our pilot over the winter months ahead.”

Dave Gallagher, chief officer at Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This is an important pilot. Intuitively it makes sense that improving people’s living environment, especially targeting this to people who have pulmonary disease will improve their health and well-being and reduce their demand on health services. We are eagerly awaiting the detailed analysis from the pilot to substantiate this and to demonstrate the impact of this innovative scheme and where it might fit within funding priorities for the future.”

Together, Gentoo Group and Sunderland CCG now aim to increase the statistical significance of the first pilot in Sunderland and are continuing to work on further projects, also focusing on COPD, in partnership with Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG and Northumberland County Council’s Public Health Department.

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