Fire and Rescue Services Could Help Early Detection of Mental Ill Health in Older Adults page thumbnail

MPFT was the leading NHS organisation for an NIHR-funded research study, which aimed to understand the role of the fire and rescue service staff in identifying and sign-posting older adults to access support for mental health problems. The fire and rescue service delivery Home Fire Safety Visits to vulnerable members of the community (including older adults), which provide a unique point of contact with older adults in their homes.

Improving Early Detection of Mental Ill Health 

MPFT was the leading NHS organisation in a research study that examined the potential use of Home Fire Safety Visits to support early detection of mental ill health (such as anxiety or depression) in older adults (aged 60 years and over). The research was co-led by Dr Tom Kingstone (Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at MPFT and Keele University) and Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham OBE (Honorary Professor of General Practice Research at MPFT and Keele University). The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Keele University, University of Chester, Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen), and colleagues at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue. Several mental health practitioners at MPFT contributed key insights as participants on the research. This research was funded by the NIHR’s Research for Patient Benefit programme.

Under-diagnosed and Under-treated 

Mental ill-health, such as anxiety and depression, in older adults is often under-diagnosed and under-treated. Older adults 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 home visits like those offered by fire and rescue services provide unique opportunities to promote mental health. 

To explore these opportunities, 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 process referrals for anxiety and/or depression. Research findings from interviews with fire and rescue staff have been published in the British Journal of General Practice. Further publications are in progress.

Improving Wellbeing of Our Communities

Ian Read, Head of Prevent, Protect and Partnerships at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:

“Through engagement with this research, we have built new relationships with our collaborators and used our involvement in research as a means to engage with other outside organisations.  

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.  

This research will also inform our approach to staff wellbeing going forward. We look forward to working with the team in the future to develop new ways to support members of the wider community.”