Integrating housing, health and care

One of the key measures in the NHS Long-Term Plan is the £2.3 billion ring-fenced local investment fund for mental health. The NHS Confederation Mental Health Network welcomed this announcement, which should help alleviate the severe pressure on the system as well as improve access to mental health services. However, at Look Ahead we remain cautious. These laudable attempts to deliver much-needed transformation in mental health and wider social care services in the UK will undoubtedly fall short – unless the role of non-NHS providers and accommodation-based support can be fully incorporated.

So what are the challenges and what can be done to address them?

A seat at the table

Sitting on the board of the Mental Health Network, it is apparent that NHS-funded mental health services are delivered in increasingly diverse forms. Together, my colleagues and I represent providers from the statutory, independent and third sectors, reflecting the broad membership of the network. It is great that organisations such as ourselves now have a seat at this table, as we know only too well  how the right housing can make all the difference to the ability of individuals to leave institutional settings and go on to build fulfilling lives.

The role of housing and the value it can bring, however, all too often remains sidelined from the rhetoric and the solutions proposed for the ‘crisis’ in the NHS. That is one of the reasons why the Mental Health Network has  called, through its membership of the Mental Health Policy Group (MHPG), for a cross-government mental health strategy “to effectively tackle the wider social determinants of poor mental health”. The MHPG has stipulated that support should include improved support for people to navigate the health and social care systems and other vital services such as benefits and housing. So what might this look like?

Integrated services

At Look Ahead, our focus has been to create integrated frontline services that really work by bringing our expertise and skills, strong partnerships and housing assets to our work with the NHS. Firstly, the skills of our specialist
support staff combine with the work of local clinicians to keep people safe and well in their communities. For example, our staff provide expert advice and support to patients with mental health needs who are not able to be released from hospital due to their housing problems.

Through our partnership with South London and Maudsley (SLAM) NHS Foundation Trust, our team of specialist Housing and Advice Workers (HAWKS) offer housing advice to patients directly on the wards at Bethlem Hospital in Croydon. This enables them not only to leave hospital but also to move on to a safe environment where they can continue to make progress.

Secondly, strong partnerships are vital to delivering positive outcomes. For instance, our LIFT service in Lambeth, where our staff provide medication support to people in their own homes and work alongside GPs to support people who have not previously engaged with mental health services.

Move-on accommodation

Thirdly, housing associations and non-NHS providers can provide vital bed spaces and move-on accommodation. For example, our Tabard Forensic Step-Down Service is located in a property that we own and have developed. Commissioned by the local authority and NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, and co-designed by us and the East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT), Tabard provides a vital and cost-effective local move-on option for individuals leaving secure or forensic care settings, often returning from high-cost, out-of borough placements. We know the right accommodation can provide the stable structure and foundations that are vital in supporting individuals to recover and move forward with their lives. The NHS Long-Term Plan creates the opportunity to continue to build these foundations and we fully intend to play our part in this process.

To discuss this article, contact Liz Zacharias:

This article also appears in CT Brief – Issue 41: Health, Care & Support


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