Putting non-slip socks on the feet of unsteady patients has helped to cut serious falls by more than half at the Counties Manukau District Health Board.
The socks, which are like those commercially available, have numerous tiny pieces of a slightly sticky material attached to them and help to protect patients walking on the smooth lino floors of hospitals.
Nationally, falls are the leading cause of serious, preventable adverse events in New Zealand hospitals. In 2009/10, 127 serious falls were recorded.
A "serious" fall is one which fractures a bone, causes a serious head injury or lacerations requiring sutures - or death. Fractures are the most common injury. In the elderly, a fall injury such as a broken hip can often be the start of a general health decline.
The DHB says that although its number of recorded falls has increased - because of better recording and coding - the number of serious ones has fallen to a median of two a month, under its Zero Patient Harm policy.
Non-slip socks are not new in healthcare, but the DHB is said to be a leader in the way it prescribes their use for patients who are at moderate or greater risk of falling. The aim is to assess all patients for risk of falling for any reason - including having a hip replacement or feeling faint on standing because of low blood pressure - and reduce identified risks by tailored measures like the socks, or perhaps a lowered bed for a confused patient.
Orthopaedic patient Stella Romley was seated by her Middlemore Hospital bed wearing her non-slip socks when the Herald visited.
"The nurse didn't want me wearing my slippers because they didn't have backs on and they were liable to slip," Mrs Romley, 67, from Clendon Park, said yesterday.
She is recovering from a total hip replacement operation last Thursday. Before the surgery, osteoarthritis had caused "tremendous pain" in her right hip - "it reduced me to tears often".
She has been getting out of bed and regaining mobility since Saturday.
"I have been for a walk around in them [the non-slip socks]. I find them very supportive."
The clinical director of quality improvement, Dr Mary Seddon, said unsteady patients sometimes put themselves at risk of falling because they tried to get to the toilet by themselves when really they should be helped by staff.
The DHB could not prevent all falls, she said. But it tried to prevent all falls that caused harm, through measures like the socks and patient education and by requiring fall-risk assessments within six hours of admission.
The DHB is trying new fall-prevention systems, like an alarm when an at-risk patient moves off a bed, and is considering a trial of impact-absorbing flooring.
Zero Patient Harm initiatives saved the DHB $10 million last year.
2009/10: Median of 7 serious patient falls a month at Counties Manukau District Health Board.
2010/11: 2 a month.