Medics call for trauma networks to save lives

The introduction of trauma networks in Ireland would save the lives of many of those who suffer serious injury as well as reducing the likelihood of permanent disability arising from accidents, a major medical conference heard yesterday.

International experience has shown that a properly resourced network of major trauma centres and trauma units improves the chances of patients surviving serious injury by as much as 50%.

The issue of trauma management was a hot topic at the conclusion of the annual scientific meeting of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine which hosted national and international experts speaking on trauma networks as well as emergency and acute care systems.

The conference, held at Cork County Hall, heard that major trauma centres and comprehensive trauma networks are associated with improved outcomes for patients.

“The whole purpose of networking is to make sure that the most grievously injured are identified and dealt with appropriately,” said Dr Gerry McCarthy, consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital.

“What we have is 29 emergency departments nationally, with varying degrees of capability and support,” he said, speaking in advance of delivering an address on the future of emergency medicine in Ireland.

“By networking, the chances of someone surviving serious trauma is improved by 30%,” he said.

Dr McCarthy already has first-hand knowledge of the importance of co-ordinating trauma services, helping to do so in relation to Cork’s three urgent care centres, one on the city’s northside in Gurranabraher and others in Mallow and Bantry.

Each unit operates for 12 hours a day, seven days a week and deal mostly with minor injuries.

“The pre-hospital triage is in the main done by trained paramedics, with direct line of communications to consultant staff at the CUH,” he explained.

The trauma network set up in England has also been commended for transforming emergency services there since it was introduced in 2010, with an independent audit showing that 20% more patients are now surviving severe trauma because of it.

According to Keith Willett, director for acute episodes of care at the National Health Service in England, the chances of survival have been far greater than that. “In three years, we have had a 50% increase in the odds of survival.

“We went live with trauma networks in 2012. It took three years to plan but the improvements have been dramatic. They have had similar results in Victoria, in Australia.”

Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Britain, is more sceptical. “It may not be as high as 50% but trauma networks work. There is no doubt about that,” he said.

“The only thing up for debate is the size of the effect they have had. There is not a chance in hell of us going back to the way things used to be.”


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