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Fall prevention interventions in primary care to reduce fractures and falls in people aged 70 years and over: the PreFIT three-arm cluster RCT

Lookup NU author(s): Christopher Bojke, Emeritus Professor John Davison, Dr Fiona Shaw



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


BACKGROUND: Falls and fractures are a major problem. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alternative falls prevention interventions. DESIGN: Three-arm, pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial with parallel economic analysis. The unit of randomisation was the general practice. SETTING: Primary care. PARTICIPANTS: People aged ≥ 70 years. INTERVENTIONS: All practices posted an advice leaflet to each participant. Practices randomised to active intervention arms (exercise and multifactorial falls prevention) screened participants for falls risk using a postal questionnaire. Active treatments were delivered to participants at higher risk of falling. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome was fracture rate over 18 months, captured from Hospital Episode Statistics, general practice records and self-report. Secondary outcomes were falls rate, health-related quality of life, mortality, frailty and health service resource use. Economic evaluation was expressed in terms of incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year and incremental net monetary benefit. RESULTS: Between 2011 and 2014, we randomised 63 general practices (9803 participants): 21 practices (3223 participants) to advice only, 21 practices (3279 participants) to exercise and 21 practices (3301 participants) to multifactorial falls prevention. In the active intervention arms, 5779 out of 6580 (87.8%) participants responded to the postal fall risk screener, of whom 2153 (37.3%) were classed as being at higher risk of falling and invited for treatment. The rate of intervention uptake was 65% (697 out of 1079) in the exercise arm and 71% (762 out of 1074) in the multifactorial falls prevention arm. Overall, 379 out of 9803 (3.9%) participants sustained a fracture. There was no difference in the fracture rate between the advice and exercise arms (rate ratio 1.20, 95% confidence interval 0.91 to 1.59) or between the advice and multifactorial falls prevention arms (rate ratio 1.30, 95% confidence interval 0.99 to 1.71). There was no difference in falls rate over 18 months (exercise arm: rate ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.86 to 1.14; multifactorial falls prevention arm: rate ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval 0.98 to 1.30). A lower rate of falls was observed in the exercise arm at 8 months (rate ratio 0.78, 95% confidence interval 0.64 to 0.96), but not at other time points. There were 289 (2.9%) deaths, with no differences by treatment arm. There was no evidence of effects in prespecified subgroup comparisons, nor in nested intention-to-treat analyses that considered only those at higher risk of falling. Exercise provided the highest expected quality-adjusted life-years (1.120), followed by advice and multifactorial falls prevention, with 1.106 and 1.114 quality-adjusted life-years, respectively. NHS costs associated with exercise (£3720) were lower than the costs of advice (£3737) or of multifactorial falls prevention (£3941). Although incremental differences between treatment arms were small, exercise dominated advice, which in turn dominated multifactorial falls prevention. The incremental net monetary benefit of exercise relative to treatment valued at £30,000 per quality-adjusted life-year is modest, at £191, and for multifactorial falls prevention is £613. Exercise is the most cost-effective treatment. No serious adverse events were reported. LIMITATIONS: The rate of fractures was lower than anticipated. CONCLUSIONS: Screen-and-treat falls prevention strategies in primary care did not reduce fractures. Exercise resulted in a short-term reduction in falls and was cost-effective. FUTURE WORK: Exercise is the most promising intervention for primary care. Work is needed to ensure adequate uptake and sustained effects. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN71002650. FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 25, No. 34. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?: Falls are a major problem for older people. Current practice is to give people advice leaflets. Another approach is exercise, especially balance and strength training. A third alternative is to invite older people to attend a falls assessment with a health-care professional, either a doctor or a trained nurse. This usually involves a careful check of prescribed tablets, blood pressure, eyesight and other problems that might cause falls. WHAT DID WE DO?: We compared three strategies. We recruited 9803 people aged 70–101 years from 63 general practices across England. We randomly allocated practices in clusters into three treatment groups. The participants in one group were given a Staying Steady advice leaflet (Age UK. Staying Steady. London: Age UK; 2009). Participants in the second group received the same leaflet and were assessed to see if they were at higher risk of falling. Those participants identified as being at higher risk (about 1000 people) were invited to take part in an exercise programme, supported by an exercise therapist. These people did balance and strength training at home for up to 6 months. In the third group, we again identified participants who were at higher risk of falling (about 1000 people) and invited them for a detailed falls assessment with a trained nurse or doctor. This last group of participants were referred for other treatments if any health problems were found. In all groups we counted fractures and falls and measured changes in quality of life, frailty and the cost of the treatments over 18 months of follow-up. WHAT DID WE FIND OUT?: We found no difference in the number of fractures over 18 months between the different treatments. The exercise programme reduced falls in the short term but not over the longer term. The exercise programme was cheaper and led to a slightly better overall quality of life.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bruce J, Hossain A, Lall R, Withers EJ, Finnegan S, Underwood M, Ji C, Bojke C, Longo R, Hulme C, Hennings S, Sheridan R, Westacott K, Ralhan S, Martin F, Davison J, Shaw F, Skelton DA, Treml J, Willett K, Lamb SE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Health Technology Assessment

Year: 2021

Volume: 25

Issue: 34

Pages: 1-114

Print publication date: 01/05/2021

Online publication date: 01/06/2021

Acceptance date: 01/01/2020

Date deposited: 24/10/2023

ISSN (print): 1366-5278

ISSN (electronic): 2046-4924

Publisher: National Coordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment


DOI: 10.3310/hta25340

PubMed id: 34075875


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Funder referenceFunder name
Health Technology Assessment programme