A new volunteering programme is aiming to bring trained volunteers into the homes of older patients to provide one-to-one support.
The Falls Prevention Community Exercise Volunteers programme is being run by the volunteering service at Kingston Hospital NHS FT, which is funded by the volunteering organisation Helpforce and the Kingston Hospital Charity.
It hopes that this will improve the strength, balance, and mobility of elderly patients, as well as improve their overall health and well-being. This is then expected to reduce the strain on the NHS caused by falls among older patients.
“We are delighted to launch this much needed volunteering service to support our patients at home."
Research from NICE in 2018 showed that the risk of falls in elderly patients can be reduced by as much as 54%, when they take part in exercises focused on improving strength and balance.
Bianca Larch, Community Outreach Manager at the trust, said: “We are delighted to launch this much needed volunteering service to support our patients at home.
“With volunteers supporting patients to undertake a physiotherapy prescribed exercise programme, we hope to see improved strength, mobility and balance in our patients and in turn reduce their risk of falls significantly.
“This programme can really improve the quality of life of our patients by restoring well-being and independence, especially for those waiting to access various community interventions.”
Falls are a serious problem for patients aged over 65, especially after they are discharged from hospital, with an estimated 40% of older adults falling within six months of discharge, and 50% of these incidents resulting in injury.
Falls in people aged over 65 that result in hospital admissions, cost the NHS approximately £3.5m per year. This cost is greater when there is an involvement of ambulance services, community services supporting reconditioning, and Accident and Emergency attendance.
During this programme, volunteers will visit patients at their home once a week for eight weeks and help them with a range of targeted exercises.
Volunteers will help patients stay mobile and active, providing information about local physical activities that meet the patient’s needs.
Maeve Hully, Director of Volunteering at Helpforce, added: “We’re pleased to be partnering with Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to deliver this programme.
“We believe that this programme will show how well managed volunteers in intelligently designed roles can provide great support to patients, staff and the system.
“We aim to support the volunteering team with our expertise in project management, as well as sharing with them our knowledge of best practice in running similar programmes, and finally, supporting the team in evaluating the project so that in the end, they will have the evidence which can demonstrate the difference that the intervention makes to patients.”
This type of intervention also aims to reduce a patient’s fear of falling so that they can continue to improve after the initial eight weeks.
Additionally, for the first four weeks volunteers will have phone calls with patients to encourage engagement with the exercises, including supporting their general well-being.
NHS trusts and community physiotherapists have welcomed the new volunteering programme, given the benefits it is expected to bring in helping ensure patients receive the right support at home.
This will in turn help reduce the risk of patients being readmitted due to falls.
Nic Kane, Chief Nurse for Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust, and Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I am delighted to support this piece of work, which is a fantastic example of collaborative working between community trusts, acute hospitals and the voluntary sector.
“Thank you to everyone involved in this project, which will make a real difference to patients.”
Ms Larch added: “We are very grateful to have Helpforce’s support on this project.
“Thanks to their knowledge, experience, and the desire to maximise the impact of volunteering, we have been able to set up the foundation to ensure the project is run safely with the support of staff.”
The trust hope to see positive results by the end of the project in June 2022, that will enable them to scale the project across the trust (extending to more wards and outpatients), and positively impacting more patients.