Home improvement for those with poor health saves hospitals money

Housing modifications can save millions for the NHS, but the housing sector needs to be involved in the decision making


Adapting the homes of wheelchair users saved a London borough £30,000 per client.


Countless reports have called for greater collaborative working between the housing sector and health care providers, specifically with the view of creating lasting homes where care and support can be given to help those with poor health, as well as those recovering from long-term illnesses.

Looking at the connection between health and housing is a logical starting point, but how does it work in practice?

Part of my frontline role for a home improvement agency in the east of England is to promote the services we provide. We target GPs and hospitals, as our services could benefit their patients – specifically those who can not be discharged from hospital due to their housing conditions – but getting a foot in the door is often the biggest obstacle.

I have arranged meetings with surgery managers to discuss how we can work in partnership but arrive to find they are too busy to see me. However, when I chat with others about the services we provide, they can see how the work we docan prevent hospital admission. The housing sector needs to get to those involved in the decision making.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to overcome is funding. Last year, the Department of Health allocated an additional £20m for disabled facility grant funding, the finance mechanism for disability aids and adaptations. Typically, local authorities would have to pay for 40% of the grant but this has now changed and councils are no longer required to top up or match government funding.

Adaptations effectively pay for themselves while taking pressure off our already stretched health service. A report published last year by the London School of Economics highlighted an example of one London borough that had two wheelchair users in residential care due to the condition of their homes. Adapting the properties and making them fit for purpose saved £30,000 per client. Another local authority reported reductions in care costs of almost £2m over a five-year period as a direct result of investing £110,000 in 20 shower adaptations. These cost savings could be replicated by a consistent, collaborative working approach.

We do have a positive working relationship with Norwich city council and the Suffolk district councils who understand what we are trying to achieve. The councils recognise the link between housing and health and boast impressive turnaround times for their adaptations. The average wait in Norwich for an adaptation is between four and six months, compared to up to three years in some parts of the country. It is this forward thinking that we need to make a positive impact on what we and the health services provide.

Alan Sharman is casework team leader at Orbit Care and Repair