Health and housing: A problem shared is a problem halved | Vicky Campbell

Vicky Campbell

A unique partnership between a local housing association and hospital in Oldham is helping to reduce delayed transfers of care due to housing issues.

I work for First Choice Homes, a not-for-profit housing association in Oldham, Greater Manchester. But since April 2016, most of my working days have been spent at the Royal Oldham Hospital. This is because First Choice Homes made the crucial decision to take action to assist people with leaving hospital when they are ready.

I’m a specialist housing officer and I work to ensure patients have a suitable home to go to on discharge. I can make sure minor aids and adaptations are fitted quickly, arrange for homes to be tidied or made safe and even find alternative accommodation if someone can no longer live in the home they used to.

I work as part of the integrated discharge team and am mostly based with the social workers within that team, as they are the primary referrers to the Hospital2Home (H2H) service. I also regularly attend intermediate care units in the borough to offer housing support to those patients as well.

I often attend board rounds for several of the medical wards in the hope that any housing-related issues that patients are facing will be identified. I then coordinate services to resolve any issues and ensure ongoing support is provided to patients upon their discharge home.

My aim is to achieve continued patient flow by reducing and removing any housing-related blockages either at the hospital or the short stay/intermediate care units.

I work in partnership with hospital social workers in sourcing appropriate rehousing options for patients unable to return home or who may have property condition issues. The service primarily focuses on social housing tenants, though patients from the private sector also access limited rehousing advice and support from H2H.

Being based at the hospital site is crucial to influencing the behaviour change that, in my opinion, is way overdue – the aim being to give value to a patient’s housing issues in the same way their social care needs are valued.

The key to a successful health and housing partnership is early identification of housing-related issues, which leads to greater solutions/outcomes being accomplished across both sectors.

The H2H service is, however, hindered by the delayed identification of housing-related issues which mostly don’t come to light until the patient becomes medically fit and ready for discharge. If frontline medical staff could commit to the early identification of housing related issues prior to this stage, I can guarantee a decrease in true housing-related blockages and ensure continued patient flow. Surely this is everyone’s shared aim?

The overall aim of the service is simply to identify, at the earliest opportunity, if the patient has a home to return to and if it is safe and adequate for their needs. This means, wherever possible, resolving those housing-related issues, ensuring support is in place at discharge and beyond, hopefully reducing the need for future admissions.

This can be achieved by reducing hazards and/or offering re-housing solutions. The effect is in more appropriately housed patients in the borough as a whole, who are less likely to need additional care or support services when occupying inadequate accommodation. 

Since going live in April 2016, the H2H service has supported 24 patients to move to more appropriate accommodation, and supported an additional 89 patients with housing-related issues.

Although it’s difficult to predict how long a person would have remained in hospital without H2H intervention, we can confidently say that without the intervention costs would have increased and been felt by both the NHS and social care.

Working in the housing field, I know that housing services have always been there to support people, but housing services have often been viewed as inaccessible or not quite the key partner in supporting a customer’s health and wellbeing.

For customers coming into the hospital, housing has now become accessible and visible to those who need to access housing support quickly.

The housing and health link provides patients with not only the opportunity to be ‘tended to’ from a medical or care point of view, but also from an accommodation or housing support need.

Given the feedback received so far from my health and social care colleagues, I think every authority should have at least one housing worker based at the hospital.

The links between health and housing in Oldham are now firmly established and can only be improved upon. It is a great achievement not only for the local health and care economy but for the patients who have directly benefited and continue to benefit from the H2H service.

Adequate housing impacts upon every aspect of our lives. Hopefully health colleagues will now recognise the need to work in true partnership with housing services, with the simple knowledge that the earlier we know about a housing problem the more we can do help.

Vicky Campbell is a Hospital2Home officer at First Choices Homes Oldham and the Royal Oldham Hospital. Follow the organisations on Twitter @FirstForFCHO @PennineAcuteNHS

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