Falls Week: Inside our work at University Hospital Southampton

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For Falls Awareness Week, we go behind the scenes of Saints Foundation’s cutting edge rehabilitation project for older adults in hospital.

Football pitches, schools, community centres, even prisons… on the streets of Southampton, you never know where Saints Foundation might pop up next. One of our more unexpected project venues is Southampton General Hospital, and it may surprise you further to learn that our work here is much more than infrequent visits – we’re there 4 days a week, every week, making a sustained difference to people’s health.

Jake is one of our Falls Recovery team, a project you may know for its community exercise classes, with pre-session cups of tea and smiley minibus drivers. But just over a year ago, the project partnered with Southampton Hospitals Charity to expand onto the wards of the General, where Jake works with groups of frail patients in the days and weeks after they’re admitted to hospital. You’ll mostly find Jake on the Medicine for Older People (MOP) Unit, although his work does occasionally take him to other departments and even a whole other hospital – over the road at Princess Anne Hospital – once a week.

Jake’s delivery is similar to what happens in our community venues, but adapted to be slightly less intense for the heavily frail patients in the MOP Unit. Jake visits patients at their bedside and gets them moving with some basic activities. He also holds a small group class once a day with basic chair exercises, a VR reflexes game, and short stints on adapted exercise bikes.

MOP Unit Advanced Physiotherapist Pippa Draper is glowing in her praise for Jake and his work’s impact on her patients. “The best thing to do is get patients up and moving immediately. With older people who are more vulnerable, any amount of inactivity means they can lose muscle strength by the day, and it takes 10x longer to build it back up. This loss of strength can have huge consequences and can mean a complete shift in the way they live their life, and even their life expectancy.

“Having Jake in the hospital, helping us get people moving immediately, has meant that people are recovering faster, and hopefully get out of here quicker. It gets them interested in moving again – that’s part of the battle, finding the motivation to not give up, especially when you’re much older.”

On the day of our visit, one of the patients in Jake’s class is Irene. She’s 95 and has been on the MOP Unit for over a month now, during which time Jake has seen a big improvement in her mobility. “The best part of the job is seeing the difference it makes on people,” he tells us. “Irene, when she first came, she wasn’t sure what to do and was really nervous about coming. Now she absolutely loves it, smiles all the way through it, and just gets on and does it. Now she’s just waiting on a package of care and she’ll be ready to go home.”

At the end of her session, Irene smiles as she’s wheeled past us and when we ask if she enjoyed herself, she responds “oh yes!”. She tells us her favourite part was the exercise bike, where the short distance she’s cycled will contribute to a group goal to bike the distance of the Three Peaks Challenge. It’ll take several months, but gives a joint goal for all Jake’s participants to work towards.

Jake wears the same Saints kit as all Saints Foundation staff, which Pippa notes as important for building relationships with patients. “It de-medicalises [the exercise] for patients,” she explains, “Obviously the majority of the older people we get in here are local, so they know the football club and recognise it. Him being in his kit means he’s seen as less clinical – all he’s there to do is give them an opportunity to do something for them that’s nice, that’s not seen as treatment.”

This year’s Falls Awareness Week (18–22 September 2023) marks approximately a year since Saints Foundation began delivery in the MOP Unit. In that time, Jake has already delivered rehabilitation exercises with more than 200 patients, with fantastic outcomes.

“Jake has been amazing,” Pippa tells us. “Over this first year, we’ve generally seen people maintain their function level, which is really good, or even improve. We’re starting to see the benefit of it on a much bigger scale than we expected to – so we’re really, really happy he’s here!”

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