We can no longer ignore the nation’s ageing population.
With almost 12 million people aged 65 and above in the UK, a figure that is expected to more than double by 2030, living longer presents significant challenges to our society’s future. We must provide high-quality health and social care, not just to increase longevity of life, but so that the lives we lead are healthier, happier and independent.
With our NHS under more strain than ever before, we must acknowledge the economic benefits of housing with care on our health service, the positive impacts this can have on community health and GP services as well as hospitals, and its value in the wider health and social care system.
We must rethink how we age in the UK and tackle the demand placed on services to accommodate our ever-increasing ageing population.
According to Age UK, there are currently 9.3 million households headed by a person over retirement age. But what happens when the family home doesn’t meet our later living needs, and no longer encourages a secure, healthy and active later life?
Ensuring that housing is right for people can have a huge impact on society in general, but also on a person’s wellbeing. Moving to a community where on-site care and support is available if and when needed, either now or in the future, provides those in the third age with safety and security. Knowing that help is there if needed can help them to retain independence in later life. According to a 2018 House of Commons report, appropriate housing can keep people healthy, support them to live independently and reduce the need for social care. Therefore, by choosing to live in a community where housing with care is available improves the quality of later life.
By choosing to live in purposely built, age-friendly housing, in centrally located urban environments, social participation and connectedness will increase. According to the NHS, more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
“Internationally, we have seen countless examples of how active, community-focused living can change people’s lives. Over six per cent of over-65s in the US and Australia live in later living communities. This is in comparison to the 0.6 per cent of over-65s choosing a retirement community in the UK. In the likes of the US, New Zealand and Australia, the intrinsic link between housing and health is widely recognised. This support has helped retirement villages become a mainstream option for this demographic”, comments Michael Eggington, CEO at Guild Living.
We must promote independent and community-based solutions to care and provide more options and choice for people with care needs in later life.
Housing with care not only encourages a positive lifestyle but also reduces the use of health services and associated resources. A report by Housing LIN revealed that the number of GP visits was significantly reduced by housing with care residents. It was also found that there was a reduction in the number of community nurse visits amongst housing with care residents.
Not only does housing with care reduce the use of health care services, but it also has significant cost-benefits for our NHS system. The Housing LIN report explains that “it is estimated that for each person living in the housing with care settings, the financial benefit to NHS is approximately £2,000 per person per annum (calculated as a cost-benefit to the health care system)”. The report also found ‘reductions in the number of non-elective admissions to hospital (by housing with care residents)’ as well as ‘reductions in length of stay and delayed discharges from hospital and ambulance call-outs, typically linked to reduced incidence of falls’ with residents in housing with care settings.
According to the Telegraph, ‘residents in retirement communities are 80% less likely to enter hospital and 50% less likely to see a GP’.
The costs of poor housing to the NHS is estimated to be £1.4 billion per annum; of which nearly half (£624 million) is attributed to poor housing among older adults. Unaddressed fall hazards in the home are estimated to cost the NHS in England £435 million annually.
It is time to address the significant impact our ageing population is having on our health service. We must acknowledge the benefits of housing with care and commit to significantly increasing the number of our purposely built housing with the unique needs of the third age in mind.