Former Civil Service chief, Lord Kerslake, has called for an independent cross-sector commission on health and housing – with housing associations cited as an underutilised NHS resource.
Kerslake, who was chair of King’s College Hospital and is presently board of trustees chair at Peabody and president of the Local Government Association, was speaking at a conference to launch health and housing research carried out by Peabody.
The crossbench peer said the two sectors are inextricably linked, but work between them at the moment is piecemeal and sporadic and services must be more joined-up.
To Kerslake, a commission would canvass across the sector to see what exists, what are the barriers and what are the things that could make a difference.
“We know that if we rely solely on the NHS we will find the costs of this becomes prohibitive.
“We are incredibly well placed, but need to understand better how we might play that role more significantly to really relieve the burden on our health service.
“The person to lead the commission needs to understand the agenda across health and housing as well as having credibility with government.
“For their part, the government should take an interest in it, be involved in it whilst ensuring its independence – but crucially they should commit to taking its findings seriously,” he said.
Peabody’s Health at Home research found that health navigators, employed by landlords and working with residents, can reduce GP visits and give people the confidence to manage their own health.
The 55,000-home landlord also runs a number of hospital discharge services in London.
This allows people to recover with support whilst freeing up beds for other patients.
The service has allowed the hospital to avoid costs of over £200,000 since becoming operational last January.
Another NHS Trust said the only ward not to suffer a beds crisis last winter was one where Peabody employed a discharge coordinator.
NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, recently revealed there are currently 18,000 people stuck in hospital for over three weeks, many because they don’t have appropriate accommodation to move to.
Housing-related inequalities are estimated to cost the NHS £1.4bn a year.
Peabody chief executive, Brendan Sarsfield, said: “Our Health at Home report shows that housing staff can help people to manage their health and wellbeing.
“Evidence suggests this translates into fewer visits to GP surgeries and A&E.
“One GP practice I’ve spoken to found that almost 40% of visits were more about social issues rather than medical ones.
“The health service carries out amazing reactive primary care in hospitals – but there also needs to be a focus on preventive measures and social solutions.
“Social landlords can help with that through our support workers and tenant engagement.
“We can also provide space, staff and discharge beds to relieve the pressure on hospitals – we are an underutilised resource.”