Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Growing pains – health and social care bill debate in the House of Lords

The Health and Social Care Bill has its second reading – a debate on the general principles of the Bill – in the House of Lords on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12thOctober. More than 90 Members of the Lords have put their names down to take part in the two-day debate. Two Peers have tabled amendments to try and force extra scrutiny of the Bill because of concerns that the Bill was rushed through the House of Commons. Labour peer Lord Rea, a former lecturer at St.Thomas’ Hospital Medical School and GP, has tabled a motion that, if passed, would mean the Bill would go no further in the House of Lords and could not pass into law in this session of Parliament. Lord Owen, a Crossbench peer, physician and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, has tabled a motion that would have the effect of sending certain clauses of the Bill to a select committee. In particular Lord Owen wants to see extra examination of changes the Bill makes to control of the NHS, the role of the secretary of state and the plans for Monitor, the new NHS regulator.

 The Bill, which has completed its progress in the House of Commons, aims to change how NHS care is commissioned through the greater involvement of clinicians and a new NHS Commissioning Board; to improve accountability and the involvement of patients in their care and to give NHS providers new freedoms to improve quality of care.

 Age UK wants to see the Bill act as a catalyst to improve health services for older people. Throughout our work with parliamentarians during the course of this bill we have been pointing out the problems older people face in accessing health and social care services. Too many older people in the UK experience poor practice and ageist attitudes when it comes to care which can put their health at risk.  Older people often struggle to access the basic care they need as the NHS continues to under-commission essential preventative services such as falls prevention, continence care and audiology. These types of services make a huge contribution to keeping older people well, independent in their own homes and helping to maintain a decent quality of life.

 NHS reforms will impact on everyone to a greater or lesser extent but they are likely to be most keenly felt by older people; patients over 65 account for around 60% of admissions and 70% of bed days in NHS hospitals. Our ageing population means it is more and more important for the NHS to meet the needs of older people. We want the new NHS commissioning board to instigate a fundamental review of how the NHS and local authorities assess, prioritise and commission services to meet the needs of an ageing population to make sure NHS structures, particularly the new commissioning bodies understand and know how to meet the needs of older people across the UK.

Read our Health and Social Care Bill briefing