A North East fire and rescue service is saving lives in more ways than one after launching a pilot scheme offering free health checks during home visits.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) are believed to be one of the first fire and rescue services in the country to be involved in such a ground-breaking scheme.
One of the key roles of their staff is to visit homes of vulnerable residents across the region to install smoke alarms and ensure they are safe in the event of a fire.
But after conversations with public health and well-being teams at North Tyneside Council, they realised many of those people they visited were also at high risk of other health conditions.
So that sparked the ground-breaking pilot that sees TWFRS Prevention and Education officers carrying out blood pressure and atrial fibrillation tests on home visits, and during some community events.
The scheme is particularly aimed at those residents who aren’t currently choosing to visit their GP for routine health checks for one reason or another.
These simple tests can ultimately help to identify the early signs of some serious health issues, where early detection can be lifesaving.
Group Manager Steve Thomas, Head of Prevention and Education at TWFRS, said the pilot could see long-term benefits for residents, public health and for the fire service.
GM Thomas, said: “This is an important and potentially lifesaving partnership programme between the Fire Service and our colleagues at North Tyneside Council.
“Our staff have been fully trained to deliver the testing with the successful outcome of the pilot scheme potentially signalling a pioneering approach to similar projects being established across Tyne and Wear.
“Every year our teams are welcomed in to the homes of hundreds of people across North Tyneside so it makes sense that while we are there we could offer a health check service.
“It could enable those residents to seek the medical help that they require, especially individuals who may be going about their day-to-day life unaware that they may require essential treatment.
“We also recognise that long term health issues such as heart disease and strokes could increase somebody’s vulnerability.
“If we can keep people healthier with this scheme then it reduces the risk of them being injured in a fire as some health issues do pose greater hazards to residents in their home so prevention advice and actions are crucial. This pilot could benefit everyone involved.”
One of the local residents to benefit from the new scheme is 52-year-old Samantha Griffin of North Shields.
Samantha, who suffers from M.E (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) recently set up a Safe and Well visit for her North Tyneside flat, and at the same time accepted the offer of the pilot heath check.
Samantha talks about what she thinks of the new scheme. She said: “I think it’s a good idea especially having the extra option on offer to residents.
“You don’t necessarily put the two things together as you normally call out the Fire Service in an emergency, and you wouldn’t think of them as taking your day-to-day health and welfare in to account.”
The former sales assistant explains that her M.E, which was first diagnosed in 2007 after a spell of chronic fatigue, is a debilitating health condition that at times is like her whole body breaking down on her.
Samantha’s condition can profoundly affect her brain [way of thinking] and her overall body function. The symptoms were initially triggered after a bout of viral meningitis.
Samantha speaks about the interactive elements and overall values of the new scheme.
She said: “The face-to-face aspect of the welfare check is so important especially at a time where people’s time is so precious, and a lot of assessments and referrals are being done online over the internet. It’s that connection between people that can help assess, there and then, the needs of the person.
“I appreciate it won’t be replacing the existing health check service but it is welcome in the knowledge that people have the chance to have their essential stats checked at the same time as a safe and well visit from the Fire Service.
“People won’t be able to ring 999 if they feel a little heart flutter coming on and want their BP checked. But to have the understanding that these options are available during a safe and well check is good to know.”
Samantha reflected after experiencing first-hand the combined safe and well and health check service.
She said: “I found it very interesting and informative, and the officers provided me with the appropriate advice and literature to read in my own time.
“Safety is always important as I try and test my smoke alarms on a regular basis as advised.
“It was a good few minutes spent trying to keep myself and my property safe.”
The trial has been taking place in North Tyneside since March of this year with every test offered on a voluntary basis.
Once the test is complete TWFRS staff give the resident a copy of their results, which they can provide to their healthcare provider.
This announcement is particularly relevant as today (Wednesday 17th May) is World Hypertension Day.
The aim of the day is to communicate to the public the importance of hypertension and its serious medical complications, and to provide information on prevention, detection and treatment.
Recent figures showed that nearly 1,700 Safe and Well checks were delivered by TWFRS Prevention and Education staff to residents in North Tyneside during a 12-month period.
All of those individuals over the age of 18 would have been offered the blood pressure and atrial fibrillation tests.
Councillor Karen Clark, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing in North Tyneside, said: “This new partnership is a great offer for our residents. High blood pressure and atrial fibrillation can sometimes have no symptoms, so people may not be aware that their heart health is at risk. These checks are a quick and painless way of identifying those at risk so that they can receive the appropriate support.
“Safe and Well visits also help to reduce barriers which some individuals may face, including needing to make a GP appointment. This is an excellent new way for residents to look after their health and I would encourage people to take up the offer.”
For people wanting further information about the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service ‘Safe and Well Checks’ please visit www.twfire.gov.uk/safety-advice/sprinklers/home-safety-checks