Warnings over impact of poor housing on Welsh NHS

A leading housing organisation has outlined how poor housing is costing the NHS in Wales £67 million a year, reports Left Foot Forward's Ed Jacobs.

A leading housing organisation has outlined how poor housing is costing the NHS in Wales £67 million a year.

A report jointly funded by the Building Research Establishment and Shelter Cymru has calculated the financial cost to the health service as a result of treating accidents and illnesses caused by problems in the home such as unsafe steps, electrical hazards, excessive cold, damp and mould.

It further goes on to highlight:

• The total cost of bringing all poor housing in Wales to an acceptable condition would be around £1.5 billion;

• The payback time to the NHS if all this work were carried out would be 22 years, however some areas could be paid back in much less time. Investment in addressing dangerous stairs for example would be paid back in 5.7 years;

Around 20 per cent of homes with the most serious health hazards could be made acceptable for less than £520, and half for less than £1,600.

Responding to the findings, John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, explained:

“Decent homes are the foundation of people’s lives and, as such, hugely important to their health and well-being.

“Now this report makes it clear that the economic case for improving bad housing in Wales is as strong as the moral case.”

He continued:

“A new assembly is just weeks away, and it will be an assembly that will not have to go through the time consuming LCO process every time it wishes to make a major decision.

“Perhaps now is the time for a dramatic change in how we view housing as a political priority and ask whether relocating housing within health – the single biggest spending department in the Welsh Assembly Government – could be a way of securing that change.”

The calls for greater efforts to improve the condition of housing across Wales come as Welsh Labour have pledged to provide a greater role to local pharmacies in efforts to improve public health, through the provision of medical advice, providing simple treatments and enabling health checks for all over-50s in Wales.

Outlining the plans, health minister Edwina Hart commented:

“Today we are announcing that we are going to support community pharmacies in Wales to boost their role and in order for them to take their place in the front-line in our battle against ill-health and preventable conditions and illnesses.

“We have already announced a major shake-up in preventative care, through the introduction of health MOTs for the over-50s and we see pharmacists as key to delivering this policy – alongside GPs, practise nurses and other professionals.

“In addition we are extending access to GP surgeries for working people and crucially keeping free prescriptions for all – a vital policy that would be axed under a Tory-led government in Wales. The choice, on the NHS, couldn’t be clearer for voters – we need a Labour majority government to guarantee the protection of our health service.”

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Labour have launched an online tool encouraging voters to support its pledge to introduce a two week cancer guarantee to see a specialist and get results within a fortnight. It comes as a BBC poll highlighted the policy as voters key priority. Signing his name to the pledge, Labour leader Iain Gray raised the threat posed to the NHS by the Conservatives.

He explained:

“While the Tories are busy trying to break up the NHS, Labour is bringing forward plans to improve it in Scotland. Too many Scots suffer from unnecessary anxiety as a result of the length of time they have to wait from referral from their GP as a result of cancer scare to seeing a cancer specialist.

“Now the Tories are back, we see what they really want to do to our NHS. Here in Scotland we have an opportunity to do things differently.”

In October, it was reported that the number of people in England waiting months for cancer tests had doubled as a result of the coalition’s decisions to scrap a number of NHS targets.

The differences in approach between the devolved bodies and Westminster will once again pile the pressure on Andrew Lansley and the Conservative-led government for whom their promise to make the NHS a priority is sounding increasingly hollower by the day.

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