Wednesday, 28 January 2015

“Trust me, I’m a housing professional...”

This week at the Welsh NHS Confederation conference, the menu of topics is interesting and timely. How do we set up our workforce in an integrated way? How do we bring about meaningful change for those we serve? How do we move from rhetoric to reality?

As a policy professional working in the housing association sector in Wales, I’m keenly interested in all of the above. I was recently invited, on behalf of Community Housing Cymru, to contribute to Welsh Government’s “Making Prudent Healthcare Happen” online resource, which is a collection of essays exploring the challenges and opportunities of this new way of working.

The services provided by housing associations, in terms of high quality housing, care and support services, community initiatives, employment and skills, and digital inclusion, are but some examples of the broad work taking place to improve health and work to reduce the number of people requiring the services of their GP or local A&E. The housing association sector and people working within it are able to provide legitimate solutions to the mounting challenges faced by the NHS and, more broadly, public services in Wales.

Housing associations work in some of the most deprived communities in Wales. When we think about how we work as public facing services to combat factors such as unemployment, education, and inactivity which we know have a substantial impact on health and wellbeing, housing associations are a key part of the formula for addressing such issues.

But the carpet is being pulled from underneath us as a housing sector. Salami slicing cuts to vital services such as the Supporting People Programme are threatening to further push people into NHS services who may otherwise have received a preventative, person centred service at a far earlier stage.

The Welsh Government budget for 2015/16 confirmed a £10m cut to Supporting People, reducing it to £124m. In real terms, this means that over 4,000 people will now go without the support they could have accessed if the fund were protected. The £10m cut is the equivalent of annual funding to provide all services for men and women at risk of domestic abuse and young people with support needs in the Vale and Cardiff. In addition, supporting people services provide a well-used referral route for hospital move-on teams, freeing up hospital beds and resources.

At a time when we need a strong “prevention sector” in Wales, we cannot afford an environment of disinvestment that undervalues the key work of organisations delivering Supporting People services.

Although the prudent healthcare work demonstrates the value, the opportunities and the enthusiasm for things to change, these words mean nothing without action from all sides.

If through prudent healthcare we’re entrusting people to look after themselves and to make positive health behaviours part of their regular habits, then it’s also vital to trust the ability of the housing association sector to support and work closely with the NHS in meeting the challenges it faces both now and in the future.

In our recent economic impact report you can see some case studies (p16-18) which demonstrate the prudent nature of the housing associations sector. Taff Housing addressing delayed transfer of care, and Melin Homes working with a collaborative to re-invent Continuing Healthcare packages in Gwent. Consistency is key, however, and we will know we are on the right track once we are able to call projects such as these common practice rather than best.

Matt Kennedy
Policy Officer: Care, Support and Health  

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