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Falls in elderly costing £1bn

Falls among the elderly cost the NHS almost a billion pounds a year in secondary care costs alone, according to research funded by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

The study, which will

inform NICE guidelines on falls due next year, found there were 647,721 A&E attendances and 204,424 hospital admissions caused by 'serious falls' in the over-60s in 1999.

Over-75s accounted for 78 per cent of hospitalisations and 66 per cent of costs due to falls, according to results published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (September).

Hospitalisation due to a fall costs between £1,453 and £2,490.

The figures from the York Health Economics Consortium at the University of York do not include costs of GP home visits for patients with less serious falls.

Dr Paul Scuffham, lead author and senior research fellow in health economics at the university, said GPs were 'absolutely' key in tackling falls. 'Because these things happen at home or on the street it certainly falls into the realm of primary prevention in primary care,' he added.

Dr Chris Dunstan, a member of the group that drew up the national service framework for older people and a GP

in Byfleet, Surrey, said elderly care would 'fall by the wayside' if GPs followed the GPC's advice to ignore frameworks and concentrate on quality points.

He accused the negotiators of 'going backwards in their thinking' and said GPs would become 'automatons' if they abandoned NSFs.

Investigating the reasons behind minor falls helped prevent more serious events, he added.

'If they have a fall on the street and graze their knee everyone just treats the graze and forgets about it, rather than dealing with the reasons behind it.'

The NSF flags up high-risk patients as those with balance, gait or mobility problems; high medication levels (particularly antihypertensives or sedatives); visual impairment, impaired cognition or depression; and postural hypotension.

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