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Fire and rescue services could help early detection of mental ill health in older adults

Fire and rescue services could provide assistance for healthcare providers, by including early detection of mental ill health (such as anxiety or depression) in older adults (aged 60 years and over) as part of their routine home fire safety visits, researchers have said.

25/10/23

Fire and rescue services could help early detection of mental ill health in older adults

The fire and rescue service could help healthcare providers reach more patients in need by including early detection of mental ill health in older adults as part of their routine Home Fire Safety Visits, researchers have said.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham OBE and Dr Tom Kingstone from Keele University, in collaboration with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue, Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, and colleagues at other academic institutes, have found that Home Fire Safety Visits could be used to detect and ‘sign-post’ for anxiety and depression in older adults.

Fire services up and down the country include routine Home Fire Safety Visits to potentially vulnerable people in their area, including older adults, to ensure their properties are as safe as possible and to provide fire prevention advice.

Researchers said mental ill-health, such as anxiety and depression, in older adults (aged 60 years and over) is often under-diagnosed and under-treated, and they are less likely to access mental health services due to perceived stigma and fear of being a burden.

Pressure on healthcare systems, particularly mental health services, make it difficult for healthcare professionals to identify conditions like anxiety and depression early, but visits like these provide a unique opportunity for fire and rescue service staff to support this early detection.

To investigate this proposal the research team conducted interviews with fire and rescue service staff, to understand more about their attitudes to incorporating mental health checks in their routine visits.

They found that staff were open to expanding these visits to include a focus on mental health, provided they had sufficient training and support from partner agencies in primary and social care settings to accept referrals for service users presenting with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.

The findings have been published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Lead author Dr Tamsin Fisher said: “We are very grateful to have worked so closely with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service throughout the course of this research. We have spoken with a variety of personnel at the service who have been very honest and open about the research and potential to expand the services that they are providing.

“Other stakeholders, including older adults across Staffordshire, have been interviewed and a second paper is in progress to report these findings. By publishing this research, we are hoping to demonstrate that non-traditional providers of care, such as the Fire and Rescue Service could support the detection of anxiety and depression in older adults and help guide and encourage them to receive the care and/or support that they might need.”

Ian Read, Head of Prevent, Protect and Partnerships at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said that working with the research team had been “a positive experience.”

“This research gives good evidence that interaction between the Fire and Rescue Service and the public during Home First Safety Visits can be used to further the objectives and priorities of the NHS, ultimately leading to better health outcomes for the individuals involved. At a time of diminishing resources for Fire and Rescue Services, a more collective approach to the health agenda can only be beneficial to the wellbeing of communities and utilisation of public funding.

Read added that the research will also inform the service’s approach to its own staff wellbeing going forward.

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