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Emerg Med J 18:352-357 doi:10.1136/emj.18.5.352
  • Original Article

Who cares for the patient with head injury now?

  1. I J Swann,
  2. A Walker
  1. Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow G4 OSF, Scotland
  2. Greater Glasgow Health Board, Glasgow
  1. Correspondence to: Mr Swann (ian.swann{at}northglasgow.nhs.scot.uk)
  • Accepted 12 January 2001

Abstract

Objective—A recent report on head injury management from the Royal College of Surgeons of England suggests that surgeons are unsuited to the inpatient care of head injuries (ICHI) and should hand over responsibility entirely to neurosurgeons and accident and emergency (A&E) specialists. This prompted a survey of A&E consultants to establish their opinions on the current and future practice of head injury care.

Methods—Questionnaires were sent to consultant members of the British Association for Accident and Emergency medicine. Of a possible 256 A&E departments from Great Britain and Ireland with over 20 000 annual new attenders 206 (80%) replied.

Results—General surgeons contribute to ICHI for adults in 107 of 206 hospitals (52%) compared with orthopaedic surgeons in 73 of 206 (35%) and A&E consultants in 71 of 206 (34%). There was frequent criticism that surgeons are uninterested in head injury care. Fifty nine units (30%) commented on the lack of neurosurgery beds and difficulties experienced in getting patients accepted. Few hospitals seem to have well integrated rehabilitation or follow up services targeted at head injury. One in six patients with head injury admitted to a general hospital or observation ward remain after 48 hours and one in 20 stay beyond one week. Of the 132 A&E units without responsibility for ICHI 54 (41%) either wish to take on this responsibility or are willing to do so if the necessary resources are first put in place. The perceived net revenue cost required to allow 67 A&E units to take on ICHI is about 12.5 million pounds per year. This does not include the cost of further care after 48 hours, follow up or rehabilitation.

Conclusion—Only one third of A&E units at present have even part of the ICHI role recommended in the RCS report; another third are prepared to accept a new role if training and resources are provided and support is forthcoming from other specialists to take over the care after 48 hours; the remaining third are unwilling to accept responsibility for ICHI.

Footnotes

  • Contributors

    Ian Swann was responsible for initiating the survey and took overall responsibility for the correlation of the results and interpretation of the data. He will act as guarantor. Andrew Walker advised on the health economics aspects of the paper.

  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.