Boosting health outcomes in Northland Monday, 2 May 2016

Source: Scoop, 29 April 2016

Outgoing Manaia PHO boss Chris Farrelly ranks Northland's Healthy Homes Te Tai Tokerau programme the most important and effective health initiative of his 25 year health career - and a stand-out for New Zealand.

In fact, he believes insulating homes is the most permanent and positive health determinant a family can receive.

The programme has seen around 8000 of Northland's most at need homes retro-fitted with insulation since 2007. Insulating a further 7000 will complete the programme but that will require around $20 million more in funding.

"The project has made a huge difference to the lives of some of our most vulnerable people in Northland - it has been a thrill to see it happen," says Mr Farrelly.

"The cost to insulate a home is around $3000 and in the year to the end of June, 2016, a further 900 homes will have been insulated alone. This programme is critical for a region for Northland where we are still contending with rheumatic fever which has actually shocked us into a whole lot of actions."

On average the Government (through EECA, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) provides annual funding of around 60%, Foundation North 31% and Northland funders - Northland DHB, two Northland PHOs, Top Energy and Northpower 9%.

But Mr Farrelly says more local funding would be welcomed by the governance group behind the project.

"We feel it important to flag to other Northland businesses an opportunity to contribute funds to continue the programme in some form. Lots of small amounts will ensure we keep moving Northland ahead. There are 7000 more homes to insulate in Northland at which point the programme will be complete.

"For many years now, through the 'Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes' programme, EECA has contributed $60 for every $40 raised locally. So any corporate contribution from Northland businesses actually triggers more contribution from EECA and others.

"The flow on effect of this is in employment. This home insulation programme has created jobs for 20 men in the insulation teams, many of whom have come from long term unemployment. That's another positive for the North."

So far around 4500 Far North homes have been insulated, more than 2500 Whangarei homes and over 800 Kaipara homes.

"This is already a massive Northland success story (we firmly believe we have developed the premier model of the rest of NZ to adopt) and will be so much greater when house number 15,000 is insulated. It is something we can all do together because we are so much more effective as a team," says an upbeat Mr Farrelly.

Retro-fitting at-need Northland homes with insulation has dramatically improved health and educational outcomes for thousands of Northland children.

And Mr Farrelly says there are also economic benefits through lower work absenteeism and the fact that money invested in the community has a three phase cycle.

"What a lot of people don't realise are the conditions many of these families live in. There can be families of ten sleeping in one room in winter because they need to provide each other heat. A lot of houses have no beds or curtains. Insulating these homes has a positive multi-generational impact."

Studies published in the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Public Health on insulating homes have pointed directly to improved health outcomes including: fewer exacerbations of respiratory illness; fewer general practitioner visits; less time off work and school; improved self-rated health; reduced hospitalisations for respiratory and coronary conditions.