ACC pulls fall plan support

ACC is pulling the plug on a world-leading falls prevention programme for older adults in favour of getting more people to modified tai chi classes that it says are cheaper and more effective.

General manager for injury prevention Katie Sadleir said the classes cut the chances of falls by two-thirds at a cost of about $100 per person, while the Otago Exercise Programme cost up to $600 per person to reduce falls by one-third.

Palmerston North physiotherapist Carol Armitage, who introduced the OEP here in 2004 and ran it for three years, said she was devastated it was going.

The programme was thoroughly researched at Otago Medical School, she said. It took a health professional into the homes of the over-80s to help them address falls risks and design personalised exercises to improve strength and stability.

About 200 people have benefited from the year-long programme in and around Palmerston North.

"When a hip fracture costs about $20,000 to repair, not counting the pain and social costs and loss of independence, saving just one or two falls a year makes it cost-effective," Ms Armitage said

And NZ Society of Physiotherapists president Jonathan Warren said the decision was short-sighted.

"The research evidence for this programme is so strong and so well respected internationally that other countries are taking it up."

Mr Warren said falls robbed older adults of cherished independence. A third of elderly people who break a hip die within a year of the injury.

But Ms Sadleir said the changes were driven by ACC's drive to do more, not less, to prevent injuries from falls.

ACC invested about $7 million a year in falls prevention work across the age spectrum, and the OEP took a disproportionate slice of that budget.

"The recent review of these programmes was looking at whether we had the right mix, and whether we can achieve outcomes in a more efficient way."

There was no doubt both the OEP and tai chi classes were effective.

About 7500 people aged over 65, including Maori aged over 55, did tai chi courses last year.

AUT research showed it was 64 per cent effective in reducing falls.

It also showed little difference based on whether people went once or twice a week for 16 weeks – so only the weekly classes would be supported in future.

There were 5000 people aged over 85 on the OEP last year, and their fall rate had dropped by 35 per cent.

Ms Sadleir said the reviews didn't compare like with like, as the OEP targeted people who were already older and more fragile.

But its high cost would see it phased out, with no new clients starting next year, and the last completing their one-year programme by the end of 2010.

The money would be used to get more people into tai chi classes.

There would also be increased efforts to address safety risks for elderly people in their own homes.

Manawatu Standard