Falls risk for terminally-ill patients

Monday 12th August 2019

A charity has called for patients with terminal illnesses to be included in a strategy aimed at preventing falls among the elderly and frail.

The Scottish Government is consulting on a plan which aims to reduce the incidence of falls, which can cause problems ranging from hip fractures and head injuries to loss of independence and loneliness.

More than 37,000 people – including 22,400 over the age of 65 – were admitted to hospital because of a fall in 2017/18.

Marie Curie, which campaigns and cares for people with terminal illness, has welcomed the draft strategy and its recognition of chronic and long-term conditions.

But in a submission to the consultation the charity said: “However, the strategy makes very little reference to those living with terminal illness and the range of illnesses that might be affected, and those in the last few months of life.

“These patients are at high risk of falls and can have different needs to the general population.

“They may not need to access the full range of falls prevention assessments but will need staff to take a rapid, proactive and flexible approach to falls management, who are then able to take the service to the patient rather than expect the patient to attend clinic appointments.”

Marie Curie says a variety of factors such as debilitating symptoms, multiple medications, fatigue and impaired vision can mean people living with a terminal illness can be more at risk of falls.

The submission said: “In the palliative care setting, falls remain one of the highest reported patient safety incidents.

“The outcome of falling can also be devastating, causing mortality, severe disability, loss of independence and often results in more acute and nursing home admissions.”

It added: “We agree that the draft strategy will improve services for those who experience falls in general care settings.

“Overall, we also agree with the outcomes in the draft strategy. However, the strategy should also refer to those living with terminal illness, and those in the last few months of life.”

The Scottish Government’s draft strategy on falls and fracture prevention outlines a plan over the next five years aimed at helping avoid or postpone falls among vulnerable people.

Examples of work already undertaken include the fire service giving falls prevention advice when undertaking home fire safety visits.

Another project has involved Police Scotland giving advice for elderly and frail passengers on how to get on and off buses safely and delivering training for drivers in Edinburgh, Lothians and Forth Valley area.