Housing network brings NHS workers in from the cold

15 March 2013
In the years before the credit crunch and the resulting economic turmoil, discussion about housing tended to be more about chains than networks.
 
However, long after the property market crash, a network formed in 2002 within the Department of Health continues to play a key role in improving specialist housing for older people and forging links between the sector and healthcare.
 
The Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN) now has 48,000 members and since its departure from the DH in 2011 has developed sufficient commercial and membership support to survive as an independent entity.
 
There is growing recognition within the NHS of both the role housing plays in public health and how an integrated approach to specialist housing can reduce or delay demand for expensive health and social care – including emergency admissions and visits to A&E.
 
Housing LIN director Jeremy Porteus is amongst the sector leaders working with the NHS Commissioning Board to develop a compact of understanding. It will highlight the health outcomes of close relationships between clinical commissioning groups, housing providers and developers and commissioners of specialist housing with care and support.
 
Porteus says. “There is mounting evidence, accepted in the government’s housing strategy, that providing people – especially older people – with housing that is appropriate to their changing need for care and support can reap a dividend for NHS and social care commissioners.”
 
That evidence includes an independent evaluation of the DH’s extra care housing fund which the Housing LIN administered on the department’s behalf. The fund encouraged local authorities and primary care trusts to co-ordinate local partnerships to develop extra care housing in their areas.
 
The DH fund awarded £227m to those local partnerships, which helped attract another £1bn from other funding streams such as the private sector and equity release, to develop over 80 new extra care housing schemes.
 
Successful bidders were required to use the Housing LIN to network to share their innovation and experiences with unsuccessful bidders.
 
The 19 schemes evaluated in 2011 were among 6,000 new units of extra care housing built while this particular DH fund was running – increasing by 20% the total stock of such housing in England. It is hoped that a new DH fund, of up to £300m, can build on this success over the coming years.
 
“Extra care housing models are based on self-contained flats owned or rented by people whose care needs are met around the clock, through flexible care and support packages that can be adapted as people’s needs change,” Porteus says.
 
The University of Kent’s Personal Social Services Research Unit evaluated the DH-funded schemes and found that residents of extra care housing schemes:
 
• Had better mental and physical health than their peers – reducing demand for health services
• Were less likely to move into residential care
• Had lower death rates than people in residential care.
 
The network has now joined forces with the charity Elderly Accommodation Counsel and two local authorities to develop a tool to be launched this month (March). The tool SHOP@ helps local authorities work with CCGs and other partners to establish the likely level of unmet demand for specialist housing over the next 20 years.
 
Such data can inform decisions about both public and private sector investment in a range of specialist housing options for older people and other vulnerable adults.
 
The tool grew out of another Housing LIN resource, Strategic Housing for Older People, jointly published with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. That resource emphasised the need for greater partnership working in planning, designing and delivering housing that older people want.
 
Porteus concludes: “With the arrival of health and wellbeing boards, CCGs and other health commissioners should now be well-placed to see housing as a key part of public health and, for older people, a factor in promoting independence and reducing expensive crisis interventions.”
 
The Housing LIN has around 48,000 professional members – a figure that has grown since it spun out of the DH in 2011. Around 34% work in acute and primary care, 28% in adult social care and the remainder in housing.
 
It describes itself as a ‘learning lab’ for professionals in England involving in planning, commissioning, designing, funding, building and managing housing, care and support services for older people and vulnerable adults.
 
The network’s members communicate both virtually and through regular regional meetings.
 
However, as a cheerleader for integration, the network has helped promote the prevention benefits for the NHS and social care of well-designed specialist housing. Such housing also allows older people to retain their independence.
 
The network is seen as a leader in generating and promoting new thinking in specialist housing.
 
The network’s director, Jeremy Porteus, has been a key figure in the development of key reports – including several by the All Party Parliamentary Group on housing and care for older people.
 
It has influenced guidance on assistive technology to support people with dementia and helped develop new design standards to raise the quality of purpose-built housing for older people.
 
By providing access to expert advice the network has actively helped local partnerships secure funding for the development of specialist housing.
 
Porteus says that the network’s reach across sectors and professional boundaries means it does not follow any particular process map or organisational development model.
 
“We know that different sectors and professions have different languages and cultures so we like to keep it simple – but effective,” he says.
 
You can visit the network and join at www.housinglin.org.uk
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