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Falls prevention is everyone's business

5 Apr 2013 | Reducing Harm from Falls

Falls hurt – and it’s up to all of us to prevent them.

That’s the message of this year’s April Falls promotion, which has begun in many district health boards (DHBs) around New Zealand.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission is supporting DHBs which are carrying out activities to highlight the harm caused by falls.

Professor Alan Merry, the Commission’s Chair, says it’s important not to underestimate the impact of falls. “Falls are an ongoing and serious cause of patient harm,” he says.

Sandy Blake, the Clinical Lead for the Commission’s national programme to reduce harm from falls, says 90 percent of falls occur in the community, with many people requiring hospital treatment.

For every fall in hospital, there are five in aged residential care and another 40 at home and in the community. Between 2010 and 2012, a total of 200 people fell while in hospital care and broke their hips.

“The Commission is supporting DHBs and working closely with them to prevent falls in hospital,” says Sandy Blake.

“Not only is the harm from falls devastating for the person who has fallen, and distressing for their families/whanau or caregivers, but it often means the person has to have extra medical tests and treatment. Patients who have had falls may end up staying longer in hospital, or need admission to aged residential care.”

Sandy Blake says older people have a higher risk of falling than others, but the risk can be reduced – both in hospital, and when people are getting ready to go home and into a rest home.

“One of the most important things people can do to keep themselves safe is to ask for help when they need it,” she says.

Sandy Blake says people in hospital should tell staff what they think will help them. It can be as simple as knowing where the call-bell is and how to use it, having everything important within reach, and keeping a clutter-free space around the bed.

Research indicates falls usually happen when someone is getting in and out of bed, a bedside chair or a bathroom. The most serious injuries from a fall are head injuries and hip fractures, and some falls result in death.

She suggests that people who are home from hospital take the following steps to stay safely on their feet:

  • ask their doctor to review the medicines they are taking, to ensure they are still appropriate
  • check to see whether they should take Vitamin D for bone strength
  • seek advice on exercising regularly to help balance and to keep muscles strong
  • have regular eye checks
  • keep the house well lit and free of clutter and loose mats, and ensure there are no wet or slippery surfaces.

“Have a talk to the health professional you see most often, either in hospital or at home, and together with family members work out a plan to prevent you falling,” says Sandy Blake.

The Commission is supporting DHB falls prevention activities during April by providing resources such as signs, posters, stickers, balloons and pens.

A national patient safety campaign being led and coordinated by the Commission will be launched in May, focusing initially on reducing harm from falls. Other areas of focus during the campaign will be healthcare-associated infections, medications and perioperative harm.

The Commission is working in partnership with the Accident Compensation Corporation, Ministry of Health, DHBs, aged residential care, home health care providers and falls researchers, and the work to reduce harm from falls will gain momentum and benefit from the good work already being done by others.

Last updated 05/04/2013