Prioritising the retrofitting of homes for those with chronic medical conditions would reduce demand on health services and hospital beds, helping to ease pressure particularly during the winter months as we are currently witnessing in our emergency departments across the country, claims Denis Naughten TD.
New research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commissioned by the Government, has found that retrofitting homes of people with chronic respiratory disease reduces their usage of GP, Emergency Departments and hospital services as well as reducing the volume of prescribed drugs.
This is a significant outcome due to the fact that respiratory consultations made up 15% of all GP attendances before the pandemic. As a result any improvement in the health of people with chronic respiratory disease will help to ease pressure on our overwhelmed GP service right across the country.
Two of the key underlying respiratory conditions adding to this demand are asthma – a condition one in five children in Ireland has – and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, a condition that is experienced by one in 13 adults.
Even more significant is the fact that before the pandemic respiratory diseases accounted for less than 6% of patients in our hospitals yet they accounted for more than 12% of the bed days. An improvement in the health of people with respiratory illness will have a significantly positive impact on the number of beds available in our hospitals.
If retrofitting homes reduced hospital stays by patients with respiratory diseases to that of other patients this would release up to 700 beds, which is equivalent to that of the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
While Government has already committed to a significant ramping up of the retrofitting of homes, there is no targeted investment in retrofitting the homes of people with respiratory illnesses or the better energy warmer homes scheme for families in fuel poverty which currently has a waiting list of nearly three years.
Investment in the retrofitting of homes also has other benefits with the research by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine pointing to homeowners reporting improved well-being in terms of mobility, self-care, pain, emotional wellbeing including anxiety & depression, physical activity and symptoms and social functioning. These improvements all take pressure off other medical support services and our mental health services.
With Government planning to see these homes retrofitted over this decade, it makes far more sense to invest in these homes now and, as a result, ease the pressure on our hospital and health services which are under huge strain particularly during the winter months.