The government is to give £3m to support the development of a programme aimed at providing boilers, insulation and double glazing to households suffering from medical problems linked to cold homes in England.
The support indicates that two months before the general election the coalition government is at last waking up to the link between housing and health – and the potential to ease pressures on NHS services. The trial programme will build on 73 schemes already in progress across the country, notably Oldham Council’s Warm Homes Oldham initiative and social business Gentoo Group’s ‘boilers on prescription’ scheme.
The initiators of these schemes have been blazing a trail without government recognition and are gathering evidence of their benefits. Gentoo Group worked with the North East Clinical Commissioning Groups to fit insulation and new boilers to the Sunderland homes of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Preliminary results from that initiative showed that the home improvements could cut patient visits to the doctor by almost a third.
There could be significant potential savings across the NHS in linking housing retrofits to health. It is estimated that cold weather costs the NHS £1.5bn a year. According to studies carried out by BRE, poor housing conditions in England cost the NHS in excess of £600m a year.
In January the government gave indications that it was looking at the links between housing and health. It established an accord between government departments, the Chartered Institute of Housing, NHS England, the Homes and Communities Agency and other organisations to promote joint action to improve health through housing. The same month a Department of Energy and Climate Change backed study was launched to catalogue the small-scale schemes currently in progress.
Energy secretary Ed Davey told the Guardian, “Why hasn’t this been done before. I am absolutely furious that people have not done this before.
“For me this is a no brainer. But I want to create the evidence from the research and from the pilots to show this is a complete no brainer.”