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Bury St Edmunds based Stow Healthcare, Care England and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) say ‘decaf switch’ at care homes could save NHS millions and improve lives

Care home residents have been offered decaffeinated hot drinks in a bid to reduce falls experienced rushing to the toilet.

In a first-of-its-kind trial, conducted across eight East Anglian care homes over six months, the simple switch resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in toileting-related falls.

If scaled across the sector, the results would mean thousands of falls prevented and NHS savings of up to £85m per year.

Bob and Michelle - The Decaf Project. Picture: Stow Healthcare
Bob and Michelle - The Decaf Project. Picture: Stow Healthcare

This is according to a joint report published by Bury St Edmunds based Stow Healthcare, Care England and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL).

The trial followed a similar initiative by UHL in 2021.

Noticing that many hospital patients were falling on the way to the toilet, continence nurse specialist Sarah Coombes suggested switching to decaffeinated drinks to reduce bladder and bowel urgency in those with an overactive bladder or incontinence.

Within three months, toilet-related falls in the hospital were down by 30 per cent.

Falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75.

People living in care homes are three times more likely to fall than those living at home; as they are generally more frail, less mobile and have a higher prevalence of incontinence than the general population.

Stow Healthcare and Care England sought to trial the initiative in a residential care home setting.

Roughly 300 residents across Stow Healthcare’s eight care homes were given the chance to blind taste-test caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks.

Over 90 per cent of residents chose to take part in the trial after being told about the potential health benefits of making the switch, with the choice of caffeine always available on request.

Over six months between June – November 2023, falls associated with care home residents going to the toilet dropped by 35 per cent.

With fragility fractures in social care estimated to cost the NHS £1.1bn per year, replicating these results across the sector could save £85m per year in prevented falls and hospital admissions.

Residents, staff and families at Stow Healthcare’s facilities have described the ‘huge difference’ made by switching to decaf and pride in being a part of the trailblazing trial.

The report authors describe the simple switch as ‘ground breaking’ and are now encouraging other care providers to ‘give decaf a go!’

Ruth French, director at Stow Healthcare, said: “The decaf project has been eye-opening for all of us at Stow Healthcare.

“To achieve a falls reduction of 35 per cent connected to going to the loo is a significant finding for us all in social care. The impact of a serious fall can have devastating consequences, and finding simple ways such as decaf drinks that might reduce this risk is ground-breaking. We hope it will inspire everyone in social care to take up the challenge”

Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive at Care England, said: “Falls have a detrimental impact on thousands of older people every year, not to mention the knock-on cost to the NHS.

”When we first heard about the results of UHL’s decaf trial in a hospital setting, the potential benefits for social care were immediately clear. For such a simple, cost-neutral solution to have such a profound impact is extraordinary.

”With a huge national focus on reducing pressure on the NHS, this pioneering trial demonstrates that simple solutions can help address enormous challenges.

Sarah Coombes, continence nurse specialist at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: “Ever since implementing the original ‘Taste the Difference Challenge’ at UHL, my dream has been to see it rolled out nationally and into the community setting. Our hospital trial resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in falls linked to toileting, and it is fantastic to see those results replicated in social care.

Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “This really could be a game changer.

“If the trial was rolled out on a wider scale over £1 billion could be saved, but mostly all the pain and suffering of an individual having the fall could be avoided. I hope the other healthcare settings will follow this simple idea to reduce falls.”

Andrew Selous MP, chair of the APPG on Bladder and Bowel Continence Care, said: “At a time when our NHS and social care system are facing real pressure, decaffeination appears to have emerged as a solution hidden in plain sight.”

Brett Grimshaw, director of Non-Grocery Sales at Tata Consumer Products, said: “We were pleased to be able to this trial.

”Whether in a care setting or our own homes, a choice of different teas and herbal infusions brings variety and enjoyment to the task of keeping hydrated.”

Nadia Roberts, brand manager at NESCAFÉ B2B by Nestlé Professional, said: “We are delighted to have played our part in this innovative trial by supplying decaffeinated coffee to Stow Healthcare’s services.”