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Reducing the risk for patient falls

Hospital facilities managers can reduce patient falls by up to 18%, a healthcare watchdog has concluded.

In a new report, the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) uses cases studies from the NHS to reveal the most comprehensive national picture yet of when, where and why patients fall.

Although data from the agency’s national reporting and learning system (NRLS) shows that most falls are related to the effects of illness and the ageing process, the report suggests hospitals must act to eliminate environmental hazards such as wet floors or steps.

The human cost of falls can include distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence and loss of independence, while the overall direct healthcare cost to the NHS is estimated at £15m every year. This represents a cost of £92,000 a year for an 800-bed acute hospital trust, with 24 falls occurring every week.

The report identifies many aspects of the hospital environment which have an impact on the risk of falls or injury. These include: flooring surface and pattern, and hardness or softness of floors; lighting, including sudden changes from dim to bright lighting; the design of doors and hand rails; the layout of toilets and bathrooms; the distance and spaces between hand holds, beds, chairs and toilets; the line of sight for staff observing patients; trip hazards, including steps, clutter and cables; and furniture and medical equipment.

The report’s suggestions include testing safer flooring to reduce injury, safer bathrooms, providing safer footwear, improvements to call bells and more consistent lighting at night.

If these measures are implemented alongside medical screening for patients to identify those at risk, cost savings of £16,560 could be achieved in an average acute hospital, the report suggests.