Growing body of evidence supports the claims that energy efficiency measures have positive impacts on health of most vulnerable NHS patients
NHS patients living in cold, damp homes have seen their health improve as part of a ground-breaking trial in which family doctors have been able to ‘prescribe’ double glazing, boilers and insulation.
The ‘Boilers on Prescription’ project, which has been run between North East-based housing firm Gentoo Group and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for the past 18 months, has reported a 60% reduction in the number of GP appointments needed by patients taking part in the scheme, after it investigated the impact of domestic thermal efficiency works on the health and wellbeing of NHS patients.
A&E attendances reduced by 30% and emergency admissions to A&E departments reduced by 25%.
NHS patients suffering from respiratory diseases that are exacerbated by the cold, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), were referred onto the scheme by the CCG and received improvements to their home such as new energy efficient boilers, double glazing and insulation totalling on average £5,000 per property.
It would appear that the patients’ ability to self-manage their condition has increased, which has reduced the number of appointments they have needed at their local GP practice.
The trial has been administered centrally by Sunderland CCG and did not require any additional resource from the patients’ GP practices.
A summary of findings from the Boiler on Prescription scheme can be read following the end of this press release.
A second report from a separate but similar study, ‘Warm Homes for Health’, which Gentoo has been running alongside its Boiler on Prescription trial in partnership with Bangor University and Nottingham City Homes, also highlights the strong link between thermal interventions in homes and the improved physical and mental health status of occupants, as well as the occupants’ increased ability to heat their homes.
The report, which has been published by Bangor University, highlights a 5% improvement in self-rated health status, a 4% reduction in anxiety, a £20k saving to the NHS across 274 households over a six month period and a 37% reduction in the number of households in fuel poverty.
The Warm Homes for Health report has been produced by health economists at the university and investigates the impact of a domestic energy efficiency retrofit programme on the health and wellbeing of 247 households in Sunderland. Home improvement measures such as double glazing, new energy efficient boilers and insulation were installed to the properties by Gentoo as part of their 1800-home Energy Saving Bundle scheme. Customers from the retrofit scheme were then surveyed at points in time following the home improvement works to establish the impact on the residents’ health and wellbeing.
Gentoo Group’s Paul Burns, who has been overseeing both research projects, said:
“The findings to date for both Gentoo’s Boiler on Prescription and Warm Homes for Health research projects demonstrate that improving resilience to fuel poverty can deliver positive benefits to the people involved and measurable reductions in demand to all areas of the National Health Service. We’re particularly proud of the fact our work has caught the imagination of other organisations.”
Tim Ballard, Vice-Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:
“The link between energy efficiency measures that improve the quality of homes or buildings and the health impacts such measures generate is a new field of investigation but a growing body of evidence supports the claims that energy efficiency measures have positive impacts on the health of some of the most vulnerable of our patients. We welcome these findings especially in relation to patient wellbeing and the potential impact on GP workload.”
John Alker, Director of Policy at the UK Green Building Council, said:
“The levels of ill health and even deaths, in which cold, damp homes play a contributing factor is truly shocking. The results from this study demonstrate the benefits of home retrofit, not just in saving carbon and saving money, but as a form of preventative medicine for vulnerable householders. The challenge now is to build on this initiative and use it to inform the way in which we value and deliver home energy efficiency nationally.”
Dr Stewart Finley, Chief Clinical Officer at Durham Darlington Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) CCG, said:
“DDES recognises the impact of fuel poverty on patients’ health and we wanted to take part in the boilers on prescription scheme because there is a high prevalence of respiratory disease in our population along with high numbers of hospital admissions. We are keen to investigate the impact of various home improvement measures relating to the thermal efficiency of a property on the health of patients suffering from COPD. We look forward to reviewing the impact of the scheme in due course.”
Since Gentoo and Sunderland CCG began their research, a number of Boiler on Prescription studies have been replicated around the UK by a number of organisations; the Greater London Authority, Edinburgh City Council, Cornwall County Council, Dorset County Council and Derbyshire County Council.
In March 2015, the then coalition Government announced £3m funding for a national Boilers on Prescription programme to be rolled out across the UK to allow GPs to ‘prescribe’ boilers, insulation and double glazing to fuel poor patients.
According to a report into the multiple benefits of energy efficiency by the International Energy Agency, addressing indoor air quality through energy efficiency measures could, in a high energy efficiency scenario, save the European Union’s economy as much as €190bn annually.