‘Stay alert and stay alive’ – Hard-hitting warning from region’s hospitals after crash victims account for one in five trauma patients

Ipswich Hospital, in Heath Road. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Ipswich Hospital, in Heath Road. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

Health leaders across Suffolk and north Essex have issued a hard-hitting message to motorists – warning them that a moment of distraction can lead to death or permanent disability in the blink of an eye.

Colchester Hospital. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Colchester Hospital. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Trauma specialists have spoken out as new figures reveal one in five admissions to critical care units are road crash victims.

More than 20% of all patients admitted to the east of England’s major trauma centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and acute units including Ipswich, West Suffolk and Colchester hospitals were involved in car accidents, according to analysis of data by road safety charity Brake.

Chiefs made the discovery while scrutinising figures supplied by the Trauma Audit and Research Network (TARN) from 2007 to 2017.

Health bosses at most of the region’s hospitals said the amount of patients treated in their trauma departments for road crash injuries had stayed constant.

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At Colchester, emergency medicine specialist Dr Kazim Mirza said that in his experience, he believes there has been a steady rise, while at Addenbrooke’s chiefs said they consistently see between 100 and 120 patients per month.

Around half of all trauma patients admitted to the Cambridge-based hospital’s major trauma centre, including several motorists from Suffolk and north Essex, have been involved in road crashes. The remainder are predominately falls.

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Dr Roderick Mackenzie is the clinical director of the major trauma centre at Addenbrooke’s. He sees hundreds of people with serious or life-threatening injuries pass through the hospital’s doors.

In a message to motorists, he said: “Road crashes remain the commonest cause of severe and fatal injury in people under the age of 40. A moment of distraction with the radio, a phone, a sandwich or an argument, particularly if driving too fast for the circumstances such as in built up areas, inclement weather or poor visibility, can lead to death or permanent disability in the blink of an eye. Stay alert. Stay alive.”

Last winter, from November to February, the East of England Ambulance Service was sent to 5,081 road crashes, a fall from 5,654 the previous year. More than 600 of these were in Suffolk, while 1,382 were in Essex.

Brake’s analysis of TARN data suggests those aged between 16 and 25 have been involved in the most car crashes.

Of 6,587 patients treated for road crash injuries in the east of England over the last decade, 1,389 were in this age group.

And it is not just drivers who are badly hurt – motorcyclists, pedestrians and pedal cyclists are also among the worst affected.

Injuries to limbs were the most common with 1,826 patients affected, with the category of multiple injuries coming in at a close second at 1,179.

The types of ailments patients present with is a key factor in judgement calls made by bosses at Ipswich Hospital’s emergency department (ED).

Spokeswoman Jan Ingle said: “Our ED is separated into two areas, one is majors and the other is minors. Road traffic accidents automatically go into our majors department. If they are very poorly, they will go into resus (resuscitation), and if they have broken bones they may have emergency surgery.

“We have a team of specialists trained to deal with every scenario. If we are not best equipped to help, and the patient has a severe, life-threatening head injury we would usually send them to Addenbrooke’s either by ambulance or air ambulance depending on the seriousness.

“Staff working with trauma patients often have to make a judgement call.”

Supporting families and patients through traumatic scenarios is another major issue hospitals tackle when dealing with the fallout of road traffic collisions. Every hospital in the region has a sophisticated network of support staff and chaplaincy services. At Colchester General, the A&E department has a relatives room. Dr Mirza added: “All of our staff are trained in supporting patients and their families, and are assisted by volunteers and members of our chaplaincy team.”

Health bosses at West Suffolk Hospital also had a message for drivers as winter draws in.

Emergency department consultant Alain Sauvage said: “Motorists need to take particular care at this time of year.

“Low-level sunlight can make visibility more difficult, and we’d urge caution at dusk and dawn especially. We’d also ask that drivers make sure windscreens, windows and mirrors are de-misted and de-iced fully before starting their journey.”

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