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Lack of suitable housing costs NHS millions

Published on 03 September 2014 12:00 AM

40,000 needless days spent in hospital awaiting home adaptations before discharge

Unsuitable housing is leaving thousands of older people facing unnecessary delays in being discharged from hospital, according to new analysis by Age UK.

Official figures show that patients who need home adaptations, such as grab rails or ramps fitted at home, are having to wait for an extra 27 days on average- more than 40,000 days in total - costing an estimated £11.2 million per year in delayed discharges.

In its new report ‘Housing in Later Life' (published today), Age UK is calling on the Government to ensure that all new homes are built to the lifetime homes standard so they can be easily adapted as people age.

Housing adaptations offer cost-effective solution

The Charity argues that housing design which complies with basic accessibility standards is a cost-effective way to help older people sustain their independence at home. Such design would allow older people to age safely and would reduce costly falls and accidents which are impacting on NHS resources. Falls and fractures in people aged 65 and over account for over 4 million hospital bed days each year in England alone.

Industry figures have shown the cost of adapting a standard new house design to make it into a lifetime home is approximately £1,500. For the cost of less than 6 delayed days in hospital, a new home could be brought up to a decent accessibility standard.

With the average cost of a hip fracture, often due to a fall in the home, standing at just over £12,300, and a year in residential care costing an average of £26,000, it's clear that getting housing right for older people could have immense benefits for the tax payer, as well as for those in later life.

In addition, simple adaptations to existing homes do not have to be hugely expensive. Age UK estimates that fitting a grab rail so an older person can get to the toilet safely costs between about £20 and £40 - and yet the benefits are often substantial.

The average grant available to adapt an existing house to allow an older person to remain at home is just over £6,800 - this is money which can fund essential alterations such as the widening of doors and installation of ramps or stairlifts, or the adaptation of heating or lighting controls to make them easier to use.

Older people finding themselves in inflexible housing

The vast majority of the 4 and a half million households containing at least 1 person with a mobility problem are aged 60 plus and this figure is likely to increase as the population ages - over the next two decades the number of pensioner households is expected to rise to 13 million, up 40% from 2008.

Yet according to the Charity's new report, all too often older people are finding themselves in inflexible housing that is hard to adapt - currently only 3% (740,000) of homes have all the recommended features of the lifetime home standards for someone with mobility problems.

It is also worrying that so many older people are living in housing that is poor quality and in a state of disrepair - more than a fifth (23%) of households containing an older person are in non-decent housing.

Recommendations to the Government

Age UK's new report puts forward a raft of recommendations to the Government, local authorities and the building industry, including:

  • All new mainstream and specialised housing should comply with higher accessibility standards to reflect the lifetime homes standard.
  • We should move to a position in which all older patients coming into contact with health care services are automatically offered an assessment of their home with an action plan to ensure it is safe for them.
  • The Government should work with local authorities to encourage the development of older people's housing strategies which provide a range of different options including: smaller homes, flats, retirement villages, bungalows, shared ownership, private rented schemes, new forms of co-operative housing and co-housing.

Although investment in specialist retirement housing is important, recent Age UK research suggests that only 3% of people would consider moving into a retirement flat in later life, and only 2% would be tempted by a retirement housing scheme - demonstrating the need for all homes to be accessible and adaptable, rather than just those built as specialist retirement housing.

Good housing 'central to supporting older people'

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 'Ensuring all new housing can be easily adapted would save the country millions and help end the nonsense of older people lingering for long periods in hospital, simply because of delays in fitting adaptations like grab rails and ramps so they can safely return home.

'Building all new homes to higher accessibility standards would cost a little more today but it would pay off hugely tomorrow, and both older people and the NHS would substantially gain.'

'It is worrying that so many older people are living in homes that are hard to adapt and in a poor state of repair. It's time we woke up to the fact that good housing is central to supporting older people to be independent, fit and well. Yes, we need a much wider range of specialist housing for older people but as most prefer to remain where they are it is crucial we do more to make all our mainstream housing fit for the purpose of accommodating our ageing population.'

Age UK provides information, advice, practical services and specially designed products to help older people stay independent for as long as possible. Age UK's free advice guides include ‘Housing Options', ‘Adapting Your Home' and ‘Home Safety Checker'. For a free copy or for further information, people can call Age UK Advice free on 0800 169 6565 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/publications.

Download the Housing in later life report (PDF, 1.49MB)

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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