After working across housing and health for over a decade, one piece of advice I’ve given to numerous housing association executives is that these relationships take time and commitment: bringing housing and health back together again won’t happen overnight.
Over the past 70 years, both sectors have developed their own cultures, their own jargon and their own ways of working. It will take resources, energy and political will for these relationships to be rekindled, before they can evolve and develop to a point where both parties are reaping mutual rewards.
In the meantime, there are a few quick wins that housing might look to take. The first is in demonstrating its value to health. The latter is a sector that is steeped in evidence, rigour and review. It’s not enough just to say that your community initiative has had a positive impact on your residents’ health and wellbeing. You need to evidence it.
This is where randomised control trials (RCTs) come in. Within the housing sector, RCTs are relatively new. We’ve been working with a number of housing associations, helping them to develop, run and analyse RCTs, but it’s clear this approach needs to become embedded across housing if the sector’s claims are going to be taken seriously by health.
The second quick win concerns jobs: the NHS is facing a workforce crisis that looks set to deepen following Brexit. Housing associations have the opportunity to direct their employment, training and education programmes towards the core skills needed by the NHS. They can play a role in encouraging and supporting residents into the healthcare jobs that are urgently required.
Finally, housing has a role to play at a strategic level within health. A recent analysis of all 44 sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) by Care & Repair England showed that very few had identified housing as a potential contributor to NHS transformation. It is at this strategic level that housing associations, especially those who sit on their boards, could lever their political connections for the long-term benefit of both sectors.
Grasping the potential for greater collaboration between housing and health will require leadership at all levels. At HACT, we have identified health as one of our key workstreams for the next five years. As the crisis within the NHS and housing continues to worsen, now, more than ever, it the time for both sectors to come together.
As a fitting tribute to Nye Bevan, it is time to be bold, to be creative, and to bring housing and health back together, again.
Happy 70th Birthday NHS!