A NATIONAL drive to tackle one of the most common causes of death following injury in the elderly could significantly cut the problem and save the NHS money, a new report claims today.
Falls are one of the leading causes of death after injury in people aged over 75 in the UK.
Figures show one in three people over 65 and half of people over 80 suffer a fall each year and they account for 10 to 25 per cent of ambulance call outs among over-65s.
Evidence suggests the psychological impact of falling can also be devastating, lowering levels of confidence and independence in older people and leading to increased isolation and depression, which often slow recovery.
Half of those with hip fracture never regain their former level of function and one in five die within three months.
The report by the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts, says the Department of Health has estimated a falls prevention strategy could reduce numbers by 15 to 30 per cent.
Government policies for the last 20 years have focused on prevention, health promotion and integration as the way to tackle falls – but studies show they have failed to work as expected.
Many patients still experience disjointed care as falls and fracture services are not integrated and not enough is done to stop people falling again, says the report.
It makes the case for investing in rehabilitation and prevention falls services that link organisations across health and social care.
It also provides examples of where the NHS, social care and community services are already working together to set up effective falls services, making a number of recommendations for making falls services work.
Ambulance Service Network director Jo Webber said: “Falls are not only physically debilitating but, particularly for older people, they really knock their confidence and can slow recovery.
“We have to take the opportunity of the NHS reforms to get organisations across health, social care and local authorities working together.
“Effective falls services that are already up and running across the country show that for little initial investment patients are getting better care, more falls are being prevented and money is being saved.
“Half the people in this country over 80 will suffer a fall this year.
“As our population gets older, we have to recognise that working together on falls is going to be even more of a priority.
“There are mechanisms available in the NHS reforms to make joint working possible but they will require leadership from the national to local level to really work.”
Measures it recommends include:
Making it a priority for NHS trusts to reduce numbers of falls and harm caused by them;
Ensuring organisations across public health, the NHS, social care and local government share information about falls;
Tracking patients who fall to assess the care they receive;
Sharing health and social care budgets to support co-ordinated falls services;
Giving a role to councils to provide information and support services about falls;
Making indicators of falls and fractures part of national performance indicators.
It points to one initiative in Newcastle where paramedics now identify patients at high risk of future falls.
Details are passed to a referral centre which arranges follow-up care. The programme has led to fewer falls, with a reduction in 999 calls for the problem by 75 per cent in the five years to 2011.