Background: A randomized study of the effect on people's health of improving their housing is underway in Torbay. The link between poor health, particularly respiratory health, and poor housing conditions has been recognized for a long time, but there have been few intervention studies to demonstrate that improving housing can improve health. In 1994, South and West Devon Health Authority set up a community development project in a deprived area of Torbay, in response to the concerns of local primary health-care workers. A community development worker helped local residents survey their homes for dampness and record their respiratory symptoms. The survey reported high levels of condensation/dampness and respiratory illness and the Council agreed to direct the majority of their housing improvement funds to the estate over the next 3 years. The Health Authority, University of Plymouth and Torbay Council were successful in obtaining funding to evaluate the housing improvements from the NHS R & D programme.
Participants and methods: Of 119 houses eligible for the study, 50 were chosen at random and improved in the first year. The rest were improved the following year. Questionnaires screening for health problems were sent to all 580 residents and baseline surveys of the indoor environment were also carried out. More detailed health surveys were completed by community nurses visiting residents in their homes. All adults were asked to complete SF-36 and GHQ 12 questionnaires, as well as disease-specific questionnaires if appropriate.
Progress: All houses in the study have now been improved, including insulation, double-glazing, re-roofing, heating, ventilation and electrical rewiring. Follow-up surveys are underway.