Warm homes trial cuts GP visits by 60%

A trial that allowed family doctors to ‘prescribe’ double glazing, boilers and insulation has improved the health of residents living in cold, damp homes and produced big savings for the NHS.

The ‘boilers on prescription’ project, which has been run between North East-based housing firm Gentoo Group and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for the past 18 months, has reported a 60% reduction in the number of GP appointments needed by patients taking part in the scheme. Accident & Emergency (A&E) attendances reduced by 30%, and emergency admissions to A&E departments reduced by 25%.

NHS patients suffering from respiratory diseases that are exacerbated by the cold, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), were referred onto the scheme by the CCG and received improvements to their home such as new energy efficient boilers, double glazing and insulation totalling on average £5,000 per home.

The trial has been administered centrally by Sunderland CCG and did not require any additional resource from the patients’ GP practices.

A summary of findings from the scheme is presented in a report by Gentoo. A second report from a separate but similar study, called warm homes for health, which Gentoo has been running alongside its boiler on prescription trial in partnership with Bangor University and Nottingham City Homes, also highlights the strong link between thermal interventions in homes and the improved physical and mental health status of occupants, as well as occupants’ increased ability to heat their homes.

The report, which has been published by Bangor University, highlights:

  • A 5% improvement in self-rated health status
  • 4% reduction in anxiety
  • £20,000 saving to the NHS across 274 households over a six month period
  • 37% reduction in the number of households in fuel poverty.

The warm homes for health report has been produced by health economists at the university and investigates the impact of a domestic energy efficiency retrofit programme on the health and wellbeing of 247 households in Sunderland. Home improvement measures such as double glazing, new energy efficient boilers and insulation were installed to the properties by Gentoo as part of their 1800-home energy saving bundle scheme. Customers from the retrofit scheme were then surveyed at points in time following the home improvement works to establish the impact on the residents’ health and wellbeing.

Gentoo Group’s Paul Burns, who has been overseeing both research projects, said: “The findings to date for both Gentoo’s boiler on prescription and warm homes for health research projects demonstrate that improving resilience to fuel poverty can deliver positive benefits to the people involved and measurable reductions in demand to all areas of the National Health Service.”

Tim Ballard, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The link between energy efficiency measures that improve the quality of homes or buildings and the health impacts such measures generate is a new field of investigation but a growing body of evidence supports the claims that energy efficiency measures have positive impacts on the health of some of the most vulnerable of our patients.”

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