The need to keep stating the obvious

If the mainstream media is to be believed, our hospital systems are close to collapse as people flock into A&E and ambulances are back up outside hospitals with nowhere to unload their charges as vacant beds become as rare as hens teeth.

Against this backdrop it has emerged that the current death rate in England and Wales is running about one-third higher than its normal rate for this time of year, with people over 75 the worst affected. The death rate has risen by 3,700 people a week since early December. Of that more than 3,000 are over-75s.

The failure of the flu vaccine combined with the recent cold weather are identified as key contributors, but the impact of older people living in cold homes which they cannot afford to heat is often a neglected contributor.

Therefore it was a welcome intervention by Dr John Middleton of the Faculty of Public Health this week who, whilst noting that the current predominant flu strain (H3N2) particularly impacts on older people, stated that “The other major causes of winter excess deaths are housing conditions and heating – affordable warmth. What we’ve seen in terms of welfare cuts and the rising cost of heating homes could also be an important factor.”

I could not agree more. This is well documented phenomenon with a quantified evidence base, such as the BRE modelling of the cost to the NHS of poor housing. What we now need is a completely fresh approach to prevention of poor health through systematic, targeted housing improvement, integrated into health and social care systems. With the vast majority of substandard homes in the private sector, the national network of home improvement agencies, including pioneer Care & Repair services, could be at the forefront of such an initiative. Is it so much to ask?

Reflections by the CEO of Care & Repair England, Sue Adams, [February 2015]


The thirst for information in an uncertain world

If only I had known….was the title of a Care & Repair England initiative some years ago. It offered housing and care options information and advice to older people in health care settings such as hospitals. That very phrase was one that older people and their families had used so often when talking to an adviser about what to do next with regard to living in the current home, adapting it, moving and/ or finding care and support.

With the Care Act implementation just weeks away, there is an even greater need for clarity about what people might expect of the care system, how much they will have to pay and how, for home owners, their housing equity will be treated.

We welcome the BBC’s ‘cost calculator’ as a useful step in enabling people to understand what the changes might mean for them in cash terms. However, there is still an enormous need for one to one advice to enable people to make fully informed decisions about where they live and their possible options. With 65% of people over 75yrs never having used the internet (ONS Data), and many without family or friends to help, that human conversation, over the phone or in person, is critical.

Which is one reason that we are so pleased to be able to work with EAC FirstStop to support local ‘Housing and care options’ services, utilising another year of invaluable funding from DCLG  In their first 15 months the 15 local pilot projects helped nearly 30,000 older people, whilst the national EAC FirstStop website has millions of hits every year, and their phone line never stops.

Unfortunately, this week we heard there is one part of the country where older people will not have access to the advice and practical help with their housing that they so need.  South Gloucestershire council pressed ahead with its massive cut to the West of England Care & Repair service. Agency of the year in 2014, Care & Repair is a pioneer in its field, bringing enormous benefits both to individuals and to the local economy. Sad news indeed.

Reflections by the CEO of Care & Repair England, Sue Adams, [February 2015]