Cheshire and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services have won a prestigious health award for their pioneering new scheme focusing on bowel cancer screening.
The two services’ Safe and Well visits have won a Healthcare Transformation Award in the category of Improving Cancer Outcomes, alongside their partners Public Health England, NHS England (Cheshire and Merseyside) and Cancer Research UK.
Firefighters from the two services have regularly visited the homes of vulnerable people over 65 to give advice on fire safety for a number of years. But since February this year, both services have partnered with the NHS to provide some health advice as well to try and reduce the number of emergency visits to a hospital.
Crews, and specially trained fire advocates give out advice on how to avoid a trip or fall in the home, who to contact if people want to stop smoking or drinking and, crucially, advice on bowel cancer screening.
As a result, 15,935 Safe and Well visits have been carried out in Cheshire from February to June which resulted in 1098 referrals for bowel cancer screening.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service carried out 574 Safe and Well visits in May which generated 129 bowel cancer referrals*.
Julie Kelly, Head of Public Health NHS England North, Cheshire and Merseyside, said: “Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer, by 16%. Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective. Through collaboration with the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and other organisations, this initiative is an excellent example of the local system working together, for the benefit of the populations we serve.”
Chair of the Fire Authority for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, Cllr Bob Rudd, said: “I’m delighted that this pioneering scheme has won this award. Getting the emergency services to work more closely together to try and avoid elderly people having to visit a hospital or developing late stage bowel cancers is a brilliant use of limited resources.”
Phil Byrne, a station manager at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The fire and rescue Service has the unique ability to access homes of vulnerable people. We are pleased to be including such a worthwhile intervention as part of our home safety engagement. The feedback from staff conducting Safe and Well visits and the results show the benefits of face to face engagement.
“Our staff have had the opportunity to explain to clients in their home the benefits of the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and ensuring the correct and appropriate screening kit sent out directly from the Bowel Cancer Screening Hub in Rugby. In our first month, we have completed 574 Safe and Well visits generating 129 requests for screening kits. This partnership work with NHS England and Cancer Research UK will no doubt improve uptake in the screening programme and evidence the value that the Fire and Rescue Service brings to the safety and wellbeing to the communities we serve.“
Experts from Cancer Research UK were responsible for giving the firefighters their training on the screening scheme.
Anna Murray, at Cancer Research, said: “Although bowel cancer screening has been a National Screening Programme since 2006, the percentage of people who take part remains low compared to breast and cervical screening. It has been a pleasure to work with Cheshire and Mersey Fire and Rescue Services to ensure that FRS personnel receive appropriate training to be able to deliver this innovative intervention to help increase participation in the programme. Any work that aims to increase early diagnosis and prevention of cancer in the population should be commended.”
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service started the Safe and Well visits a short time after Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, hence the lower numbers.
Top image: Left to right – Phillip Byrne station manager at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Susan Spence healthcare professional facilitator at Cancer Research UK, Cllr Bob Rudd Chair of the Cheshire Fire Authority and Ant Fletcher Watch Manager at Powey Lane Fire Station.