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Use surplus NHS land for supported housing – think tank

Housing associations could help save the NHS £6bn over 25 years if they worked together to use surplus land for supported housing, a new report argues.

The study, ‘NHS surplus land for supported housing: Why now and what are the possible cost savings?’, by left-leaning think tank the Smith Institute, says supported housing is “significantly more cost effective” than treating people in acute hospital wards, and that NHS organisations with surplus land can realise much better value in the long term by working with a housing association than selling it to private developers.

Report author Paul Hunter, head of research at the Smith Institute, said: “This study shows there are significant savings that could be made through joint ventures between housing associations and NHS trusts. Using surplus land for supported housing could help to deliver efficiency savings for NHS trusts and improve healthcare. It is a ‘win-win’ opportunity.”

Kevin Beirne, group director for housing care and support at One Housing Group, which has supported the research project, added: “We already know from our first-hand experience of integrated schemes such as Tile House in King’s Cross that joint supported housing projects are game-changers for our NHS partners and, more crucially, for the people we house and care for. This research shows just how significant the improvement in recovery and savings could be nationally and will hopefully kick-start more partnerships and joint development work for the benefit of patients and the NHS.”    

The study argues that the NHS could save around £75,000 per year per home if a mental health patient was transferred to supported housing (run by a housing association) rather than staying in an acute ward. £50,000 per year could be saved if an older person was transferred from an acute ward to a supported home.

These forms of partnerships can also care additional public assets, offering a long-term investment instead of a one-off land receipt.

More supported housing could help cut the number of delayed discharges, which cost the NHS about £200m a year.

The Smith Institute said: “The study argues that, unlike other early intervention programmes, using surplus land can help meet the upfront capital costs of building supported homes. Factoring in build costs over 25 years, £1.6m could be saved on a supported housing unit for those with mental health problems, and £1m for older people.

“The research shows that on current values (ignoring inflation), over a 25-year period, this would provide an annualised return on investment of 7% for mental health supported housing and 5% for supported housing for older people. Given that the calculations ignore inflation, these yields are arguably higher than just selling the land and investing elsewhere, whilst providing a better service.”

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