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Solihull fire death prompts GP to help others at risk

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The death of an elderly patient in a house fire has prompted Castle Bromwich GP Dr Anand Chitnis to find a way of preventing vulnerable people from finding themselves in a similar situation.

Dr Chitnis, a GP with Castle Practice, who is also Chair and Clinical Lead of Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), has worked with West Midlands Fire Service to create a form for GPs and practice nurses to refer patients they think may be at risk for a home safety check.

This new system is now being rolled out across Solihull CCG’s 27 GP member practices.

As part of the free check, the fire service fits and tests smoke alarms. The firefighters can visit with Age UK or social services, and will alert the patient’s surgery if they spot a significant medical problem.

Risk factors are being aged over 65, living alone, having a mental illness (particularly dementia), alcohol misuse, having a drug addiction, being a smoker or having a smoker in the household, being housebound with poor mobility, and having a learning disability.

Dr Chitnis said: “The fire which killed my patient could possibly have been prevented if a home safety check had been carried out. Such cases are fortunately less common than they used to be but they still happen.

“West Midlands Fire Service has significantly reduced the number of deaths and injuries from accidental fires in the home with its prevention measures. The firefighters doing the checks help people understand how to get out of their home quickly and if they can’t get out, how to keep safe whilst a crew is on its way.

“They are highly trained in spotting other vulnerabilities and identifying falls risks and other hazards, such as hoarding. They also advise on safe, non-electric bedding for keeping warm and other home energy improvements.”

Pete Wilson, Head of Community Safety at West Midlands Fire Service, said: “We welcome this initiative from Dr Chitnis, who recognises firefighters’ unique position to help people – especially the most vulnerable – to improve their health and wellbeing, as well as reduce their risk of fire.

“Our firefighters are trusted and respected and visit thousands of residents every year in their own home. Tackling health inequalities is now a key part of our long-established prevention work.

“We understand the clear links between the risk of house fires and issues such as smoking, mental health, alcohol and substance misuse, and poor housing. It makes sense for firefighters to be involved in tackling these health issues as a long-term investment in reducing the risk of fire.”

Solihull CCG is led by local doctors, nurses and lay members. It designs, plans and funds health services for the people of Solihull.