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Falls screening and assessment tools used in acute mental health settings: a review of policies in England and Wales

Abstract

Objectives

There is an urgent need to improve the care of older people at risk of falls or who experience falls in mental health settings. The aims of this study were to evaluate the individual falls risk assessment tools adopted by National Health Service (NHS) mental health trusts in England and healthcare boards in Wales, to evaluate the comprehensiveness of these tools and to review their predictive validity.

Methods

All NHS mental health trusts in England (n = 56) and healthcare boards in Wales (n = 6) were invited to supply their falls policies and other relevant documentation (e.g. local falls audits). In order to check the comprehensiveness of tools listed in policy documents, the risk variables of the tools adopted by the mental health trusts’ policies were compared with the 2004 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) falls prevention guidelines. A comprehensive analytical literature review was undertaken to evaluate the predictive validity of the tools used in these settings.

Results

Falls policies were obtained from 46 mental health trusts. Thirty-five policies met the study inclusion criteria and were included in the analysis. The main falls assessment tools used were the St. Thomas’ Risk Assessment Tool in Falling Elderly Inpatients (STRATIFY), Falls Risk Assessment Scale for the Elderly, Morse Falls Scale (MFS) and Falls Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT). On detailed examination, a number of different versions of the FRAT were evident; validated tools had inconsistent predictive validity and none of them had been validated in mental health settings.

Conclusions

Falls risk assessment is the most commonly used component of risk prevention strategies, but most policies included unvalidated tools and even well validated tool such as the STRATIFY and the MFS that are reported to have inconsistent predictive accuracy. This raises questions about operational usefulness, as none of these tools have been tested in acute mental health settings. The falls risk assessment tools from only four mental health trusts met all the recommendations of the NICE falls guidelines on multifactorial assessment for prevention of falls. The recent NICE (2013) guidance states that tools predicting risk using numeric scales should no longer be used; however, multifactorial risk assessment and interventions tailored to patient needs is recommended. Trusts will need to update their policies in response to this guidance.

Cite this article

Falls screening and assessment tools used in acute mental health settings: a review of policies in England and Wales.

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