A recent survey by the NRFC has found that the vast majority of local Councils in the UK are failing the challenge set by the UK’s official health adviser to help vulnerable residents to survive the winter cold.
The results come six months after the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published its guidance on excess winter deaths and morbidity. Aimed at local Councils, the guidance was based on a large volume of evidence which suggests, amongst other things, that as many as 25,000 excess winter deaths are caused each year because households are unable to afford their heating bills. This is a statistic which means that the UK is performing below the levels of less advanced economies such as Romania and Bulgaria.
In May, the NRFC wrote to all 152 health and wellbeing boards in the UK asking them to respond with their intended approach to the NICE guidance (NRFC letter). The results of this consultation form the first Healthy Homes League Table which NRFC Chair, Hugh Goulbourne, believes has established an important benchmark for all Councils:
‘Richmond and Oldham have shown that there is a strong will amongst some Health and Wellbeing Boards and their partner Councils to tackle the issue of fuel poverty. But this encouraging trend is more than offset by the fact that six months after the guidelines were published two-thirds of Health and Wellbeing Boards have still not put in place any response at all to help prevent more deaths next winter’.
The NRFC is calling on Public Health England and NICE to recognise the achievements of the 20 Councils who have responded. All of the respondents, with the exception of the London Borough of Merton, have already taken steps to meet the guidelines and in many case have exceeded the provision set out by NICE. Of these 20, 15 Councils are in the process of reviewing how best to implement the guidelines and 5, who are establishing new lines of work since the publication of the guidance, have already started to implement new projects in order to comply.
For example Richmond Borough Council are creating a single point of contact where once there were two and Lincolnshire are specifically rewriting their affordable warmth strategy to take into account the NICE guidance “we recognise that further work is needed to develop these referral mechanisms into a more robust single point of contact for health, care and housing services”.
‘At the very least we would expect Health and Wellbeing Boards to have met our minimum requirement for registration on the Healthy Homes League Table by discussing the NICE guidance as part of their meeting agenda’ says Hugh ‘We appreciate that there are some Councils such as Islington or Oldham who have done a lot on this issue but have not been able to get their Health and Wellbeing Boards to support. We want to work with public health authorities and NICE to put pressure on those Boards to help Council’s get their plans in place before winter closes in.’