A ‘hidden army’ of heating industry, health and social care professionals could help tackle deaths and illnesses caused by cold homes, says the National Institude for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in a new guideline issued this week.
The guideline on how to reduce excess winter deaths and illness highlights that there is a huge untapped opportunity to spot and help vulnerable people whose health is at risk because of living in a cold home. Every contact that a vulnerable person has with health and care staff and heating engineers is a chance to improve health and save lives.
There are around 24,000 excess winter deaths each year, and many more people are made ill by living in a home that is too cold. Importantly, health can be affected when outside temperatures drop to around 6°C. This means people are at risk at normal winter temperatures not just during extremely cold weather.
A key recommendation for helping this ‘army’ of support is having a single-point-of-contact referral system, so that all staff in contact with vulnerable people have a quick and easy way to get help for someone who needs it. People who are worried that their home is cold are also encouraged to get in touch with the single-point-of-contact system for help in making their home warmer.
The European Union classes a comfortable temperature in the home to be 21°C, so a cold home is one where the temperature falls below this level. People who are vulnerable to health problems linked with cold homes are those with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, babies and children under age 5, people aged over 65, people with mental health conditions or disabilities, pregnant women and people on low incomes.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed winter deaths had risen by 225%. The figures, for 2012/13 show winter deaths rose from 40 to 130 on the Isle of Wight with many of those people aged over 75.
Speaking for the My Life A Full Life funded WarmerWight-plus project , Ray Harrington-Vail said:
“We would urge everyone to be vigilant at all times for vulnerable people in their neighbourhoods, contact the Isle of Wight Council social services or in real emergency the Ambulance Service on 999.”
“The Footprint Trust can help people reduce their energy bills and get their homes insulated, which is longer-term solution to fuel poverty…”
The Trust can be contacted on 822282.
The guideline makes a wide range of recommendations including:
• Establish a single-point-of-contact health and housing referral service to help vulnerable people who live in cold homes
• Primary health and home care practitioners should identify people at risk of ill health from living in a cold home, and make every contact count by assessing the heating needs of people who use health and care services
• Discharge vulnerable people from health or social care settings to a warm home. Assess soon after admission or when planning a booked admission whether the person is likely to be vulnerable to the cold and if action is needed to make their home warm enough for them to return to
• Provide access to tailored solutions such as housing insulation, heating improvement programmes and grants, and advice on managing energy effectively in the home and securing the most appropriate fuel tariff and billing system
• Train heating engineers, meter installers and those providing building insulation to help vulnerable people at home, and to be able to spot if someone is at risk because of a cold home, and know who to call if there is a problem
•Raise awareness among practitioners and the public about how to keep warm at home, including addressing commonly held misconceptions, such as that drinking alcohol can help keep someone warm, that hypothermia is the main health problem caused by the cold, or that sleeping in a cold bedroom is good for your health