Housing providers who have been active in supporting their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic can now play a crucial role in helping the NHS defeat the virus and deliver long-term mental health goals.
These are among the key findings from a report into ‘Housing and Health: the response to COVID-19’ commissioned by Hertfordshire-based housing association settle from health expert Peter Molyneux.
Other findings and recommendations for housing providers to build on their efforts during the pandemic and to support the NHS and other health partners, include:
- In the short-term use their wealth of community data to continue to identify, support and help protect those residents most vulnerable to the virus and minimise COVID-19 infections
- Mental health professionals say ‘connectedness’ is one of the key means by which people recover good mental health. settle’s strategic aims already include reducing isolation, improving social connections and supporting people into work – there is a key opportunity to align activity to deliver these targets with mental health objectives of local NHS trusts and health partners
- Help the NHS recruit and keep the new staff it needs to deliver its long-term workforce plans. Housing providers can signpost residents to job opportunities and provide low-cost housing for NHS workers near to places of employment. This issue of housing affordability is a key strategic issue being debated at present by NHS leaders – housing providers can help to shape this discussion
The report also highlights the important role housing providers can play as community champions, helping build resident resilience.
It recommends that settle builds a network of resident community champions, supported by a ‘community connector’ at settle who builds relationships with local health trusts and primary care networks, as well as local authorities and other housing providers.
This approach will maximise the impact of the work housing providers already do – income support, aids and adaptations, skills training, etc – and ensure these activities are aligned with local public health targets, especially around mental health.
The settle report chimes with the aims of the recent government ‘Integration and Innovation’ White Paper to maximise the benefits of community-based healthcare.
Gavin Cansfield, chief executive of settle, said: “This timely report is exactly the challenge we need at this point in our response to the pandemic. We have worked hard to understand and respond to our residents’ changing needs over the past year to continue to deliver on our aim of helping people to live comfortably in their homes.
“Yet we are clear that adhering to social distancing in line with government guidelines doesn’t have to consign residents to a lifestyle of social isolation. This report shows how settle – and other housing providers – can build on the momentum established in the past 12 months.
“We have a clear offer to make to local health professionals and can ensure our efforts focus on where they can do the most good – especially around mental health and well-being. We are already acting on the report’s findings and hope others find them useful too.”
Peter Molyneux, report author and chair of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “COVID-19 is the greatest social emergency in the UK since the second world war. If the economic impact is similar to that after the 2008 recession then we can expect an additional 500,000 people experiencing mental health problems.
“settle has responded well to the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has gained more trust from tenants and residents and further developed strong relationships with key stakeholders. It now needs to take stock and decide how it wishes to prepare for further waves and the economic and social impact on its tenants, staff and business objectives.”
Julian Baust, a board member at settle and also at a community and mental health NHS trust, said: “The link between housing, health and well-being is something that drives us all at settle each day, as we are conscious of the immense positive impact we can have by getting this right.
“Our work in our neighbourhoods echoes the findings of the Housing and Health report by taking a data-led approach towards providing targeted, flexible, customer-centred services.
“Our contact with some of the most vulnerable in society, along with the relationships we are building or continue to build with partner agencies, puts us in a strong position to make a real difference in our communities.”
Main image: John Gomez/Shutterstock
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