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Cold homes: Prevention better than cure

Last month the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published new guidelines on winter deaths, morbidity and the health risks associated with cold homes.

In the run-up to the general election this area is set to become a hot topic as parties court families and the elderly with policies that reduce NHS costs and tackle poverty.

The new Excess winter deaths and morbidity and the health risks associated with cold homes guidelines make recommendations on how various organisations can help reduce the risk of death and ill health associated with living in a cold home.

With the prolonged cold snap this January, excess winter deaths are expected to approach 40,000.

While there is an increase in deaths from almost all causes during cold weather, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions are the key causes of winter deaths which are directly associated with cold homes.

The NICE guidelines show the clear link between taking people out of fuel poverty and the economic and health benefits from doing so.

A key recommendation is establishing a single point of contact referral service for people living in cold homes.

Warm Homes Oldham

Warm Homes Oldham is such a scheme which is already delivering impressive results.

This scheme, set up by Oldham Council and Oldham NHS CCG set out to invest upfront in preventative measures to help people at risk of the health impacts that fuel poverty can cause, with cost savings being realised through improved health and wellbeing.

Keepmoat was appointed to deliver the scheme, launched in 2013, which provides a wide range of services to help lift people out of fuel poverty.

Although the installation of energy efficiency and heating system improvements to properties are key, the help goes much further than just pure property improvements.

This includes providing behaviour change advice and training to householders on how to use their household energy more efficiently and better understand their heating controls.

Working in partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau, a third strand looks at how the income of those households can be maximised, helping them to get out of fuel debt (by applying for trust fund grants), giving advice on bills/tariff switches, getting off prepayment meters and conducting benefits checks.

The scheme has now helped more than 2,200 people out of fuel poverty so far and initial analysis showed a 30 per cent reduction in A&E admissions for those helped in its first year.  

The scheme could provide the template for other local authorities nationwide to respond to the new NICE guidelines.

As Alan Higgins, Director of Public Health, said, “Living in cold conditions is a significant factor in bringing on a range of illnesses including mental health stresses as well as respiratory problems and others. 

This scheme is making a real difference to families in fuel poverty in Oldham to help them warm their homes and stay well.”

Nigel Banks is group sustainability director at Keepmoat

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