NHS’s major trauma services – not good enough

England has an unacceptably poor service for dealing with major trauma, in spite of 20 years of reports identifying the problem, and a real terms doubling of NHS spending in the past decade, the National Audit Office found.

Some 450 to 600 lives a year could be saved, and much long-term disability prevented, if the NHS had an effective network of centres to deal with multiple injuries from road crashes, burns, blasts, serious falls and major crush injuries, the NAO said.

Death rates from major trauma are 20 per cent higher in the UK than in the US, which has well organised trauma centres, and almost certainly higher than in Germany and some other European countries, according to spending watchdog’s research.

Victims of major trauma need specialist surgical teams that may include orthopaedic, cardiac and neuro-surgeons, but such consultants are not normally on duty at night and weekends when most major trauma occurs. 

Few hospitals have sufficient CT scanning available round the clock to help with diagnosis, and what data there is shows that barely a third of patients who need moving to a more specialist centre in fact get transferred.

Not enough of the patients who need a critical care bed get one, and access to rehabilitation services which can improve quality of life and reduce hospital stays varies widely, the NAO said.

Major trauma services are simply “not good enough”, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said. They “have not significantly improved in the last 20 years, despite numerous reports identifying poor practice”.

The result is unnecessary deaths and disability and poor value for money, and while the health department has just appointed a national director for trauma it and the NHS “must get a grip,” Mr Morse said. Co-ordinated trauma networks need developing, with much better information on costs and outcomes. 

The performance of 40 per cent of hospitals cannot even be measured because they do not submit data to the voluntary network which does audit trauma care.

The NAO’s warning came as the department told primary care trusts they must do a better job of monitoring the quality of care delivered by out-of-hours GP services following the death of David Gray, a patient given a fatal overdose by Dr Daniel Ubani, a German flown over as a weekend locum by Take Care Now, Cambridgeshire’s private contractor for out-of-hours care.

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