30 January 2012

A pilot gritting scheme has been launched in the county to reduce the risk of vulnerable people falling in adverse winter weather and increase their independence.

The project is a joint initiative between Northamptonshire County Council and NHS Northamptonshire, working with Northamptonshire Probation Trust, which is supporting the community-based initiative.

The project will see some sites receive gritting when snow is forecast to reduce the risk of slips and falls. Paths will be gritted and snow cleared by offenders from Northamptonshire Probation Trust.

The priority sites, which will be areas with a high proportion of elderly residents, will link with the existing network of gritted roads to allow access to essential services such as health centres, community centres or shops.

Professor Stephen Horsley, Director of Public Heath for NHS Northamptonshire, said: “Preventing falls is a major priority for NHS Northamptonshire, so we are absolutely delighted to be able to work with our partners to help reduce the risk for our vulnerable residents.

“Falls are the most frequent and serious accident in people aged 85 and over, with over half of hospital admissions caused by falls, mainly due to hip fractures. Around 50% of people who suffer a hip fracture can no longer live independently. In Northamptonshire in 2009, there were 83 falls due to slipping on snow and ice, while nationally, falls resulting in hip fractures are estimated to cost the NHS and Social Care around £6m per day.”

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, county council cabinet member for infrastructure and public protection, said: “Although our winter service offers a very good coverage of the main road and footway network, this additional funding and extra staff means that we can extend our good work to other areas. A key role of the council is to help those who are most in need and I believe this collaborative effort is doing that very effectively.”

Northamptonshire County Council is also working to make grit more accessible to those in the wider community, and for the first time bags of grit will be sold from all household waste recycling centres at a cost of £5 per 25kg bag.

John Budd, Chief Executive of Northamptonshire Probation Trust said: "As an organisation we are keen to put our resources to good use to support community based initiatives.

“Community Payback is a sentence that enables offenders to undertake unpaid work that has community benefit as well as act as an effective and visible punishment and this is an excellent project that enables us to work in partnership to support those most at need in the county."

Prevention of a single hip fracture resulting from a fall has potential savings of £16,049 in health and social care costs. The number of falls occurring in the areas receiving extra gritting will be monitored, together with the impact on the residents’ wellbeing, through focus groups held prior to, and after, gritting.

This is the second falls initiative to be launched this year, following the launch of the Rapid Response Falls Service in November, which sees specialist falls ambulance crews provide support more quickly and provide treatment at the scene where appropriate.

Richard Clayton, Assistant Director of Operations – Leicestershire and Rutland and Northamptonshire Divisions, East Midlands Ambulance Trust, said: “Public place slips, trips and falls rise significantly during periods of severe cold weather as you would expect. Whilst the Ambulance Service plans for this in its seasonal (winter) plans, the plans are designed react to the rise in demand, but not tackle the route cause of the issue. Targeting key hotspots will most certainly reduce the risk to pedestrians and the subsequent Health and Social Care pressures that inevitably result.”

The scheme will be jointly supervised by MGWSP, the county council’s highway service provider and the probation service.

Ian McGivney, head of operational delivery for MGWSP, said: “Northamptonshire Probation Trust provide an excellent resource to deliver added value, or to tackle areas which we would not be able to cover as part of our contract.

“We have seen the impact of our recent harsh winters and have really wanted to be able to do more. I am delighted we have managed to co-ordinate with Northamptonshire Probation Trust and be able to provide a service when the bad weather hits for these locations.

“Having spoken to people in the areas this should prove to be very beneficial and provide a little more confidence about getting out and about.”