Significant numbers of calls come from residential care and sheltered accommodation, suggesting that these facilities are relying on ambulance services inappropriately, suggest the authors.
The researchers monitored all calls for falls made to the ambulance service in North East England among people aged 65 and older. The monitoring period lasted from the beginning of June to the end of December 2004.
During that period, 1504 calls for falls among the elderly were made. The numbers remained fairly constant each month, ranging from 167 to 226. This equated to 36 calls for every 1000 people over the age of 65 in Newcastle.
Most of the calls required transport to emergency care rather than assistance on site to get up.
Ambulance crew time is costed at £123 per hour, and crews spent an average of two days every month attending to falls, picking up a tab of £46,383.
A third of calls requiring assistance only came from sheltered housing organisations, with 14% coming from one organisation alone. One in four of those transported to emergency care were admitted to hospital.
The authors calculate that attending to falls in the community costs the ambulance service in North East England an average of £145 per fall. And they suggest that initiatives to alert local fall teams to those at risk of falls would be helpful not only to the elderly but also to the NHS.