An Interview with Heather Henry, Chair of New NHS Alliance
How do you view the role of housing in the provision of health and social care?
For me personally and all of us at New NHS Alliance, we have made a point of prioritising housing and the link to health. A decent, affordable, manageable place to live is one of the social determinants of health, not just because of the link between overcrowded, cold or damp homes and health, but also in terms of feeling in control of your life, which can positively or negatively affect the levels of chronic stress, which links to mental and cardiovascular health. Social isolation is big health issue right now and housing providers do more than most to help address this by helping people to support each other.
What are the keys to building integrated health and housing services?
Without doubt it is about developing the personal relationships between the two. The housing sector also needs a hand to negotiate its way into health services, whose leaders sometimes need help to understand how housing can help them. That is why New NHS Alliance worked with SITRA to write ‘Housing, Just What The Doctor Ordered’ which is a guide to making those relationships
As a representative of the health sector, what are your experiences of working with the housing sector?
I am a frontline nurse undertaking asset based community development. Everywhere I go across England I work closely with the housing sector. I find housing organisations understand an asset and strengths-based approach and create the enabling conditions where people and communities can learn to help themselves. Recently a housing association helped dads I work with to set up a community interest company focused on family cycling activities. This far-sightedness about the idea of social ownership of business and the link to health through employment and community benefit is something to be applauded.
How do you manage competing health and housing priorities?
The Alliance works to promote joined up government policy - we talk to both the Department of Health and DCLG. And because our national executive is truly multidisciplinary we have a broad understanding of this issues. As a health professional I have no answer to this question but I consistently see peer and community support emerging when there is nothing else. If the answer to every problem is always a service or a new policy then we will forever be chasing our tails. Housing is literally and metaphorically about building community and I think the smart system leaders understand and prioritise this.
What is the greatest success and the greatest challenge of the health sector within this context?
The health sector is so chronically underfunded and understaffed at present that at times it is hard from them to look past their own troubles. However the Alliance also believes that in times of stress, innovative solutions often emerge, such as discharge to assess and social prescribing. I have also seen the work of a poverty truth commission and feel this is a powerful way for local people and services finding solutions together. Listening to local people, with true humility is tough, but the greatest success will come from local authority, housing and health service integrating with people and communities