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Major trauma centres a major success?

View profile for Robert Dempsey
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Restructuring of the NHS by governments of any persuasion can often arouse suspicion amongst the general public. However, a report published this month (August 2018) examines relatively recent changes to the NHS with apparent obvious benefits. 

In 2012, the coalition government of the time introduced major trauma centres to focus on specialist treatment for victims of traumatic injuries.

Prior to this patients who suffered a major trauma were taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital irrespective as to whether the hospital had the facilities or specialist skills to treat injury victims.

Drawing upon evidence at the time, the government recognised this system led to delays in treatment leading to an increased risk of mortality.

Fast forward six years from the introduction of major trauma centres. The independent research carried out by the Trauma Audit and Research Network (TARN), indicates there is now a 19% increase in the chances of survival following major trauma as a result of the 27 centres across England. This equates to an estimated 1600 lives being saved.

A closer analysis of these statistics suggests this is due in part to more patients being taken to specialist units rather than the nearest hospital; to trauma patients seeing consultants sooner, and the earlier diagnosis of conditions through the increased use of CT scans.

The report also categorises the various causes of trauma in descending order as follows:

  • “low fall” (fall from less than two metres);
  • road traffic collision;
  • fall from height;
  • assault;
  • other.

It is perhaps surprising a fall from a low height is the greatest cause of traumatic injury. This includes avoidable injuries such as trips or slips. However, when one considers that the average age of patients using the trauma centres has increased year on year, it highlights the vulnerability of the ageing population as a result of falls.

Whilst the percentage of figures for low falls has increased over time, the remaining causes of traumatic injury have stayed more or less consistent. Despite knife crime hitting the headlines, traumatic injuries as a result of assaults show a general downward trend in the last few years.

So how successful have the centres been?

When the major trauma centres were introduced, the government estimated the trauma centres would save between 450 – 600 lives across England per year. The recent figures suggest half this number may be more accurate but it is clear survival rates are increasing as a direct consequence of these centres, which can only be good news. The families of those survivors who would have died without these centres will undoubtedly see them as a major success.

This of course does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. Whilst survival rates have increased, survivors of say traumatic brain injuries may require ongoing care assistance and rehabilitation for the remainder of their lives. There are still no trauma centres in Wales or Scotland leading to a harsh and unfair inconsistency in the level of care across the United Kingdom. Plans to open centres in Scotland are imminent but as yet there is little sign of centres being opened in Wales.

The challenge for the future is for the centres to adapt to an ageing population and changes in technology.

The challenge for personal injury lawyers is to ensure victims of traumatic injuries are compensated for any losses caused by the negligence of others and to ensure ongoing rehabilitation with the help of this valuable addition to the NHS.