The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued new guidance this month aimed at reducing hospital falls, which cost the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion a year. Many falls occur amongst older patients, sometimes causing injuries such as fractures, head injuries or even death. We have seen an increase in potential claims relating to older patients who fall in hospital, including cases where the patients have died from their injuries. NHS statistics confirm that in-patient falls, particularly amongst older patients, are on the increase. A common example would be an older patient with a known history of falls, dementia, visual and mobility problems being left to attend the bathroom alone, resulting in a fall which can cause serious injury, such as fractures to the hips, brain injury and death. Such falls in older patients can have devastating consequences on their emotional and physical wellbeing.
In many cases, we find that elderly patients have not been assessed for their risk of falls and appropriate measures have not been implemented to safeguard against that risk. We support NICE’s call for action to reduce these falls. Key to this is properly identifying the patients who are at higher risk of falling, such as older patients who may have balance and mobility impairments, dementia patients and patients with visual or hearing difficulties. Some falls may not be preventable, but simple safeguards can be put in place to reduce a patient’s risk and NICE highlights that many falls are avoidable. For instance, NICE guidelines include offering alternative footwear, helping patients to go to the bathroom, encouraging patients to use the patient call bells when they need help and explaining when and how bed rails might be adjusted.