The link between better health and safe, warm, and dry homes is a long-established one.
But the other big challenge in improving physical and mental health in our communities lies in tackling a range of other social and economic issues.
That is why it is so important for the housing and healthcare professions to work with each other. This is something we’ve made huge strides on in Bolton in recent years, but there’s more that can be done.
Housing professionals need to be seen as an extension of the healthcare sector. Working on the front line, often in deprived areas, gives housing professionals the opportunity to make health interventions earlier.
For example, our Bolton at Home UCAN (Urban Care and Neighbourhood) centres offer a range of health-focused advice. These work in partnership with health partners in areas such as healthy cooking and eating, activities and exercise, baby weighing, Primary Care Psychological Services, ‘Men In Sheds’, and tackling loneliness and isolation to name but a few.
What’s already working?
One initiative that’s already working well is the Community Asset Navigators funded through the Locality Plan. They are instrumental in getting the message out to patients about the wider support available to help them lead healthier lives and supporting the growing demand for social and other non-medical interventions to improve people’s health and wellbeing.
Housing organisations have a great opportunity to work with the team of Asset Navigators to tailor specific services and programmes where they are needed in non-clinical settings.
This is important because there’s lots of people who go to their GP for something that’s not necessarily a medical issue. Often, time-challenged GPs lack the information on where to refer patients that may require a greater level of emotional and wellbeing support.
We’ve seen it in our UCAN centres where someone walks through the door with a housing issue but before you know it they’re opening up to our trained staff about a wide range of different issues that may be impacting their physical and mental health which in turn is having an adverse effect on their ability to live happily and sustain their tenancy.
It might be money worries, for which we can refer them for debt and advice support. They might be feeling lonely and isolated, for which we can find relevant support networks. They may be struggling to feed themselves, for which we can refer them to local foodbanks or support them through the Food Pantry project.
Many housing organisations are very good at this and could potentially take a lot of the strain off the GP appointments system by taking a lead on these issues.
What more can be done?
Ever improving technology gives the healthcare and housing professions a great opportunity to work together to improve public health.
For example, social prescribing software has been developed and trialled that gives GPs access to better information on local housing and community services that may provide an alternative to medical interventions. This is something we’re monitoring closely to see if there’s anything we can apply here in Bolton.
Greater collaboration between housing organisations and local healthcare providers is particularly useful when taking a preventative approach to public health. There’s so much we can do to tackle health issues relating to obesity, smoking, and alcohol and substance misuse.
Housing services can also help healthcare providers when it comes to social care too. Last year alone, Bolton at Home’s Careline service received around 3,000 calls from older and vulnerable customers wo reported they had fallen and were at home and on the floor.
Our trained staff can speak with them to assess their needs, provide much needed reassurance and send staff to help them if required using specialist lifting equipment. They can often prevent ambulances having to be called and can keep people at home and out of hospital.
There are so many opportunities for healthcare and housing to work together, and we’re relishing the opportunity to do our bit and to continue to work with GPs to make Bolton a healthy place to live.