Skip to main content

Health and Social Care: Falls Prevention

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 30 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the value of every local authority adopting a strategic approach to falls prevention in the context of easing the burden on the health and social care systems.

My Lords, in July 2016 Public Health England established the national falls prevention co-ordination group. It has recommended that local authorities and clinical commissioning groups agree a falls and fracture prevention strategy and identify a commissioning lead with a remit for falls, bone health, multi-morbidity and frailty.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and declare an interest as vice-president of RoSPA. Will he acknowledge that injuries and deaths resulting from falls have reached alarming levels, especially among the elderly? There are more than a quarter of a million emergency hospital admissions in England every year as a result of falls by people aged over 65. More than 70,000 of these are hip fractures, which are the leading cause of accident-related deaths of older people in the UK each year. The annual cost of hip fractures alone, including medical and social care, is estimated to be more than £2 billion. Will the Government commit to easing this huge burden on health and social care services by supporting and funding local authorities for falls prevention work?

The noble Lord is quite right to highlight this important issue. The statistics are quite alarming, as he has pointed out. Every year, about one in three over 65 year-olds will experience a fall, and that rises to one in two for those aged over 80. This is a very significant problem with a very obvious human cost, as well as the economic cost that he described. The main area we need to work on is obviously prevention. I point him to the increased funding going into the disabled facilities grant, which has doubled over the last few years and is continuing to grow. That is about preventing falls in the home, which is where most falls take place. The consequences of doing that are huge. It means fewer hospital admissions, people can stay in their homes for longer, and reduced harm to patients.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware, as I am sure are many noble Lords who are of more advanced years than the Minister, of the benefits of dance for the health of older people? Is he aware that 85% of people who participate in Dancing in Time, a falls-prevention programme in Leeds, completed the course, compared to some 40% who complete standard NHS falls-prevention courses, and that evidence shows that dancing, even for just an hour a week for six months, brings measurable benefits to the cognitive and motor functions of healthy older people? Will the Government encourage health and well-being boards to consider the merits of prescribing dance and, indeed, other artistic activities?

I will happily do so. Dance is very popular in my household, with “Strictly Come Dancing” on the television at the moment. Debbie McGee might not be quite over 65 but she is a great advert for older people dancing. I absolutely support what the noble Lord says. I have seen the evidence on the impact that was published as part of the APPG’s work on this; it is very convincing and we will certainly let health and well-being boards know that this is exactly the kind of thing—social prescribing, if you like—that they should be looking at to prevent falls.

My Lords, the Royal College of Physicians estimates that between one-quarter and one-third of falls could be prevented through assessment and intervention. NHS Improvement ran 19 projects with volunteer trusts. There is not much evidence of those pilots working closely with local authorities, which is the nature of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Jordan. What were the results of the pilots that started in January? One of the key findings of NHS Improvement was that two-thirds of trusts were still using outdated predictor equipment which NICE has recommended against. Can the noble Lord let me know, either now or later, whether he can confirm that those predictor instruments that NICE is now saying should not be used have been withdrawn, particularly from hospitals and general practice?

I do not have the specific details that the noble Baroness has asked for; I will write to her. The figures are not good; there are still around a quarter of a million falls in hospitals and mental health trusts each year, which is equivalent to the emergency admissions, so it is still a significant problem. NHS Improvement is working with the poorest-performing trusts and is reporting that those interventions have seen improvements, but we clearly need to phase out some of the poor practice that exists in order to reach higher standards.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the social care system is in crisis? As council budgets are squeezed and the number of elderly people keeps rising, councils have had to withdraw preventive spending on such things as handrails, home adaptations and meals on wheels. This may save money in the short term—the focus on those with extreme need is understandable—but will my noble friend please relay concerns from these Benches back to the department that there has been insufficient urgency in adopting a long-term, strategic approach and introducing meaningful reforms rather than a sticking plaster on this ever-growing problem, which will result in more frail, elderly people costing more money to the NHS?

I accept that there is a challenge that we have to meet in social care: it is the reason that the Government are committed to a social care Green Paper next summer to provide long-lasting reform. In the meantime, I hope that my noble friend will recognise that another £2 billion was announced in the previous Budget to go into social care over the next three years in order to move people out of inappropriate hospital stays and into their homes. That is backed up, as I pointed out, by a doubling of the disabled facilities grant year on year, precisely to provide the kind of interventions that have a huge pay-off for the public sector. Something like £1 spent on the disabled facilities grant saves £4 in the wider public sector, so this is very important work.

My Lords, one of the main causes of fracture of the hip in someone who falls is osteoporosis, which is both preventable and treatable. Will the Minister consider starting a screening programme for at-risk groups?

That is a very interesting idea. I will write to the noble Lord. Of course, since this summer general practices are now obliged to carry out screening of over-65s specifically to look at frailty, looking at those with mild, moderate and severe frailty, and that may already include osteoporosis. But I will write to him with the specific details.