Ambulance resources stretched dealing with minor falls

MILLIONS of pounds are being spent sending 999 ambulances to incidents where they are not needed, stretching resources while bosses battle to make huge savings.

Paramedics at the East of England Ambulance Service were despatched to 136,000 reports of falls in the year ending March 2012 – at a staggering cost of �34m.

The majority of falls involve elderly patients, half of whom do not need transfer to hospital and evidence suggests that up to a third of all falls are preventable.

The news comes as the service attempts to save �60m from its budget over the next six years.

Calls categorised as a fall account for 17 per cent of the service’s accident and emergency patient activity – the largest number of 999 calls received by the service.

National statistics state that approximately 30 per cent of patients aged over 65 will fall each year.

The ambulance service’s consultant paramedic John Martin said tackling the issue of falls was not an easy one.

Most Read

“It involves not only what we can be doing for patients when we’re called to them,” he said, “but the quality of their lives and their surroundings to help stop them falling again and again.”

Neil Storey, associate director emergency operations, said: “Our crews respond to hundreds of calls every day, scores of which can be better handled with the right intervention by all healthcare providers.

“Our falls patients can be assured that we’re all working with common goals – to reduce the number of falls which people suffer, to ensure they get the right response and the right care and, as a consequence, free up more resources for life-threatened and very seriously ill patients.”

The ambulance service has been working with local agencies to help prevent further falls and to identify those at risk.

Most health care trusts and acute hospitals now have falls clinics and work is being done by GPs to identify recurrent fallers and to attempt to ascertain a reason for them. Falls are often a symptom of underlying disease, adverse effects of regular medication or a poor social situation.

Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, based in St Ives, runs a local falls prevention service.

District nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists are trained to carry out risk assessments in patients’ home and deliver exercise programmes for improving strength and balance. The teams work closely with local hospitals to avoid admissions to hospital.

Mark Cole, a spokesman for CCS, said: “Falls represent the most frequent and serious type of accident in older adults. They can cause injury, destroy confidence, increase isolation and reduce independence. The risk of falling increases with age and those who have already had a fall are more likely to fall in the future.”

Action to help reduce the risk of falls can include referring patients for eye tests, asking GPs to review repeat prescriptions, checking the home for hazards and strength and balance training to improve mobility and steadiness.

Referrals are made to team by the patient’s GP or A&E, if they have had more than two falls in the past six months and/or it is thought there may be medical conditions contributing to the risk of falls.