Keele researchers work with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue to develop mental health support for older adults

Keele researchers are set to work with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue to develop mental health support for older adults that can be delivered through the fire service, in an innovative new project.

A research team, led by Keele’s Dr Tom Kingstone and Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, will carry out a 12-month study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Research for Patient Benefit programme, which will assess how mental health support can be delivered to older adults through Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Home Fire Safety visits.

The service currently provides fire prevention support to members of the local community in their homes, and this novel “FIRESIDE” study will examine whether these visits could be adapted to also support detection of mental health problems - specifically among older people -and the provision of advice about local mental health services.

Research shows that older people often delay seeking help for mental health problems, with many not recognising early signs or having limited access to services. Untreated mental health problems can worsen over time and lead to other health conditions worsening too, so it is important to find new and innovative ways to detect mental health problems and provide support to older adults at an early stage.

The study will see Keele collaborate with representatives from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and researchers from the University of Chester and Robert Gordon University.

The team will interview fire service staff, healthcare providers, and the public to hear their views on proposed changes to the home visits. If acceptable, the team will use this information to develop a new plan for the visits to include mental health checks and information sharing, as well as producing new training resources for Fire and Rescue Service staff to help them put these changes into practice.

It is hoped the findings will support further research to put the adapted approach into practice on a wider scale.

Dr Kingstone, Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing from Keele’s School of Medicine, said: “We already know that the Fire and Rescue Service provide fantastic outreach support to local community members and vulnerable people. We are interested to find out whether and how their roles can be extended to provide much needed mental health support too. I am grateful to the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit programme for funding this research and cannot wait to get started.”

Mark Walchester, Head of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s central prevent and protect team, said: “This study may prove to be a lifeline to an older person who could be experiencing mental health issues in the home. By utilising our safe-and-well checks to not only help residents to prevent and protect themselves from fire, but also to establish whether individuals need extra support, we hope we will be able to offer this bridge between services.

“Our fire officers already do so much within their communities, so it seems like an effective way of crews using their local knowledge to further help local people – detecting issues and helping residents access the support they need.

"I look forward to seeing the outcome of this study and the impact this positive work has on our crews and communities in Staffordshire.”