Column: Keeping old folk safe and well

South Yorkshires Chief Fire Officer James Courtney.
South Yorkshires Chief Fire Officer James Courtney.
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Firefighters in Doncaster are this month beginning to deliver advice on falls, crime and healthy ageing to older people in the borough.

These visits, known as ‘safe and well’ checks, are really just an extension of the tens of thousands of home safety checks we already carry out in South Yorkshire every year, which have contributed to a significant reduction in fires, deaths and injuries in the last decade.

Instead of focusing purely on fire prevention issues, these new visits will be targeted at people aged 65 or over and will include general health and wellbeing advice, falls risk assessments and crime prevention tips.

People will then be referred to other agencies for specialist interventions and advice, if needed.

Many other fire and rescue services around the country already carry out visits like this and, if successful locally, we may decide to extend this initiative across the rest of South Yorkshire.

Dozens of staff have been undergoing training in health improvement from the Royal Society for Public Health.

We know there are huge links between the people who need the help of the health services, and those who are at risk of fire. So strengthening our knowledge and referral mechanisms through collaborative working must surely benefit our public safety objectives.

Nationally, fire and rescue services, NHS England, Public Health England, the Local Government Association and other partners, including Age UK, have been working together to explore how they can encourage and deliver local action to reduce demand on health and social care systems and improve the quality of life of vulnerable people.

In South Yorkshire, we already host a monthly memory café for people living with dementia and their carers at Adwick fire station.

More than 5,000 people have been offered sight loss assessments, after fire service staff were trained in delivering a simple, five-minute sight screening tool as part of the Optimeyes scheme set up with Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB).

Fire crews also attend hundreds of ‘medical break-ins’ every year, where they gain access to properties where people are thought to be in need of urgent medical attention, but where ambulance service paramedics cannot get to them.

I am delighted that by working with partners including the police, NHS and clinical commissioning groups on initiatives like these, we are demonstrating we are contributing far more to communities than just our traditional activities .