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Suitable housing crisis costing NHS over £11 million a year

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Suitable housing crisis costing NHS over £11 million a year

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Health and also in Central Government, Communities, Development, Housing

Suitable housing crisis costing NHS over 11 million a year Suitable housing crisis costing NHS over 11 million a year

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A drastic lack of suitable housing for elderly people being discharged from hospital is costing the NHS £11.2 million a year, new research has revealed.

Age UK's analysis of official figures found that patients who need home adaptations such as grab rails or ramps are having to wait for an extra 27 days on average before the can be discharged from hospital - more than 40,000 days a year in total.

In its report - ‘Housing in Later Life’ - Age UK calls on the government to ensure that all new homes are built to the lifetime homes standard, so they can be easily adapted as people age.

The charity argues that housing design which complies with basic accessibility standards is a cost-effective way to help older people sustain their independence at home.

Such design would allow older people to age safely and would reduce costly falls and accidents which are impacting on NHS resources, Age UK says.

Falls and fractures in people aged 65 and over account for over four million hospital bed days each year in England alone, according to 2011 figures from the Royal College of Physicians.

In a 2012 report for the DCLG, industry figures showed that the average cost of adapting a standard new house design into a lifetime home is approximately £1,500. Thus, for the cost of less than six delayed days in hospital a new home could be brought up to a decent accessibility standard, the charity says.

And with the average cost of a hip fracture, often due to a fall in the home, standing at just over £12,300, and a year in residential care costing an average of £26,000, Age UK says it is "clear that getting housing right for older people could have immense benefits for the tax payer, as well as for those in later life".

The charity says that simple home adaptions need not be expensive. For example, the cost of fitting a grab rail so an older person can get to the toilet costs £20-40, but "the benefits are substantial".

Age UK's report reveals that the vast majority of the 4,500,000 households containing at least one person with a mobility problem are aged 60 plus - a figure likely to increase as the population ages.

Over the next two decades, the number of pensioner households is expected to rise to 13 million, up 40% from 2008.

Yet, according to the report, all too often older people are finding themselves in inflexible housing that is hard to adapt. Currently, only 3% (740,000) of homes have all the recommended features of the lifetime home standards for someone with mobility problems.

Age UK also draws attention to the amount of older people that are living in poor quality housing, with 23% of households containing an older person classed as non-decent housing.

The report puts forward a raft of recommendations to the government, local authorities and the building industry, including:

  • All new mainstream and specialised housing should comply with higher accessibility standards to reflect the lifetime homes standard.
  • A move to a position in which all older patients coming into contact with health care services are automatically offered an assessment of their home with an action plan to ensure it is safe for them. 
  • Government should work with local authorities to encourage the development of older people’s housing strategies which provide a range of different options including: smaller homes, flats, retirement villages, bungalows, shared ownership, private rented schemes, new forms of co-operative housing and co-housing.

Age UK concludes that although investment in specialist retirement housing is important, its recent research suggests that only 3% of people would consider moving into a retirement flat in later life, and only 2% would be tempted by a retirement housing scheme – demonstrating, the charity says, the need for all homes to be accessible and adaptable, rather than just those built as specialist retirement housing.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Ensuring all new housing can be easily adapted would save the country millions and help end the nonsense of older people lingering for long periods in hospital, simply because of delays in fitting adaptations like grab rails and ramps so they can safely return home. Building all new homes to higher accessibility standards would cost a little more today but it would pay off hugely tomorrow, and both older people and the NHS would substantially gain.

“It is worrying that so many older people are living in homes that are hard to adapt and in a poor state of repair. It’s time we woke up to the fact that good housing is central to supporting older people to be independent, fit and well. Yes, we need a much wider range of specialist housing for older people but as most prefer to remain where they are it is crucial we do more to make all our mainstream housing fit for the purpose of accommodating our ageing population.”

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