Within two years nearly 1,000 elderly people every day will be taken into hospital after suffering a fall, experts are forecasting.
The rise will not only escalate costs to the NHS but will also lead to “devastating and life-threatening consequences” for a person’s health and wellbeing, council chiefs warned.
Highlighting the prediction as one consequence of the funding gap in adult social care, the Local Government Association (LGA) called for extra money to enable them to work with the elderly on preventing falls.
New research by Public Health England has found that prevention programmes run by councils cut the number of falls requiring hospital admission by nearly a third (29 per cent) and produce a financial return on investment of more than £3 for every £1 spent.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said extra resources to increase prevention of falls among an increasingly older population would reduce hospital admissions, so cutting the current bill from falls of more than £2bn a year.
“Councils, many of which already offer comprehensive advice and guidance to help older people stay on their feet, want to invest more in prevention work but are being restricted due to government funding reductions,” it said.
As a result it is calling for the Government to “fully address the adult social care funding gap, which will reach more than £2bn by 2020” – by coincidence the same sum as falls currently cost the NHS annually.
They also want adult social care to be put on an equal footing with the NHS.
“The Government has bailed out the NHS with extra money, but local government funding doesn’t receive anything like the amount of short-term extra funding the NHS has received,” a spokesman said. “And overall funding for local government has dropped significantly.
“But also it means equal priority – putting money into the NHS and not local government is a false economy as giving funding to councils to spend on prevention can reduce hospital admissions and NHS costs.”
Figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents show that in 2016-17 there were 316,669 hospital admissions in England of people aged 65 and over because of falling – the equivalent of more than 867 each day across the country.
The number has increased by 9 per cent over four years, and based on this trend will continue to rise to around 350,000 by 2020-21, or 959 a day, the LGA forecasts.
Health experts say falling can be catastrophic for the elderly, leaving them unable to walk and therefore declining into a spiral of ill health and dependence on others, with associated health costs, at home or in hospital.
According to Age UK, falls are the biggest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people, and 4,984 people aged 65 or more died from having a fall in 2016, equating to 13 people every day.
Ruthe Isden, head of health at Age UK, said the forecast was “deeply concerning”. She said the charity was already seeing the consequences of “the crisis in social care” with the numbers of people not being helped to become independent again after a fall, and also in numbers not receiving help to prevent falls.
“If you’ve been unwell you can lose muscle mass very quickly, so there’s an urgency about helping people – it’s imperative to get people back on their feet, otherwise there are knock-on costs to the NHS: they may have to go into hospital or into a care home,” she said.
“We absolutely know social care is in crisis. People who once were considered eligible for care no longer are, and people who need support in the home are facing increasingly long waiting lists for things like stair lifts.
“We know from our own experience that even when people are assessed as being a good candidate for help, sadly services just aren’t available.”
She said many callers to Age UK’s helplines are family members who have been promised help for an elderly person but after weeks nothing has happened, and nobody in authority seems to have any information on their case.
“This can have a very detrimental impact – rehab can make the difference between a person regaining their independence or not. And the longer they wait, the more someone loses muscle.”
Cutting back led to higher costs in two areas, she said: not preventing falls often led to hip fractures, which usually led to hospital stays, and also higher continuing care costs for people in their own homes.
A lack of rehabilitation can make the elderly more susceptible to falling again, according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Natalie Beswetherick, of the society, said: “Falls can have devastating consequences, which is why it is so important to invest in strength and balance classes in the community. These services save money by cutting hospital admissions and reducing demand on social care, but more importantly they help people remain active and independent.”
Izzi Seccombe, of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “The fact that these shocking figures are set to soar even higher in the next few years will heap further strain on local services.
“But some councils are being forced to stop fall prevention services due to funding reductions, which has seen spending on prevention work from adult social care budgets reduced by more than £60m in the past year.
“To reduce demand and cost pressures on the NHS, the Government needs to switch its focus from reducing delayed discharges from hospital to preventing admissions in the first place – and put adult social care and the NHS on an equal footing.”
Errol Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said falls are not an inevitable part of ageing.
“Prevention initiatives can bring results very quickly,” he added.
The Independent asked the Department of Health and Social Care to comment but has not received a response.