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Creative and cost-effective ways to integrate housing, health and care

Source: PSE June/July 15

Emily Bird of the National Housing Federation says social landlords can be in the vanguard of innovation on health and wellbeing.

Shortly after David Cameron was re-elected as prime minister, a group of charities wrote to him urging ‘bolder steps’ to deal with a rapidly ageing population. 

The 16 organisations, including Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre – UK, called for “an even more ambitious agenda” to tackle the lack of housing and enable a greater number of older people to live independent, healthy lives. 

It very much echoes my own organisation’s view that we must be better prepared for the challenges that our ageing population faces. For the first time in history, there are 11 million people in the UK aged 65 and over, and that is expected to grow to more than 16 million by the mid-2030s. 

The fact that we are living longer should be a reason for celebration and it will be if we respond adequately to demographic change – a theme the National Housing Federation will be discussing at PfH Live on 23-25 June. 

Nowhere is that response more pertinent than in the social housing sector, which houses some of the country’s most vulnerable older people. Meeting their needs will require more of the right kind of housing – for example, specialist or supported accommodation, of which there’s currently a supply gap of up to 16,000 homes a year for older people. This is the kind of housing that enables older people with long-term conditions to remain out of hospital. 

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The same goes for care and support – an area where, through greater integration between health and social care, we are starting to see the benefits of approaches forged through collaboration and focused on prevention. Yet sadly, many of these preventative benefits are now at risk due to funding cuts to care and support services. 

Despite these financial pressures, some social landlords are still finding creative and cost-effective ways to integrate housing, health and care. 

They include Midland Heart, which last year opened a 29-bed specialist reablement facility for older and vulnerable patients in the grounds of a hospital after winning an NHS tender. The service not only cuts the time that patients spend in acute wards but also reduces their likelihood of re-admission. 

This shows the vital role housing can play in providing innovative care to the NHS at much lower rates than keeping older patients in hospital. It also brings in funding to social landlords and boosts the independence and health of tenants. 

But this example also demonstrates the role that housing associations themselves can play in the supply chain, designing and supplying the tailored support needed to prepare for an ageing population. 

Housing associations are using their role in the supply chain in other ways to prepare for soaring life expectancy. Procurement teams are starting to embrace the unique vantage point they have within their housing organisations, stepping away from a purely transactional role where they might purchase nursing staff or grab rails at the end of a project. 

Instead, some procurement professionals are being asked for strategic input at the start of a project. That might take the form of joining up their information systems with the asset management team to identify forecasted care and support solutions together. This type of strategic work could help co-ordinate supply chains more effectively, increasing service quality and reducing costs. 

Procurement staff are providing market intelligence to senior management via the data they gather when researching health and care products. They are also boosting customer service standards by carefully managing relationships with suppliers that provide frontline care and support. 

Some social housing purchasing teams are using their position in the supply chain to improve tenants’ health and wellbeing. That might be about knitting community benefit clauses into contracts so suppliers are engaged on the condition that they meet social value targets. For example, a central heating contractor might be required to hold workshops where they educate tenants on ways to cut heating bills and keep warm, helping to boost the health of residents who have conditions exacerbated by the cold. 

Social landlords are well-placed to be at the vanguard of this type of innovation. Their customers are among those most affected by cutbacks to health and social care. But more than that, as both a purchaser and provider of services, they can truly influence local provision on the ground. 

Emily Bird NHF resize 635705634332077101As Midland Heart demonstrates, preparing for huge demographic change requires major re-organisation. It’s about moving on from traditional commissioner-provider relationships towards creative partnerships between health and housing. But this can’t just be about re-thinking commissioning pathways or frontline delivery. It must be about considering everything – and that includes back office business processes such as procurement. 

About the author

Emily Bird is policy leader at the National Housing Federation (NHF). The NHF will be leading a session on how we can better prepare for an ageing population at procurement event PfH Live on 24 June.

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