Spinal Injuries in the UK


Every eight hours, somebody is left paralysed by a spinal cord injury and informed they will never walk again.

Spinal Cord Injuries Day aims to raise public awareness of this reality for many people affected by spinal injuries. Spencers Solicitors endorses the EveryEightHours.com campaign and its calls for:

  • Further medical research to develop more reliable treatments
  • Better medical care and support for those affected
  • Guidance and support for those affected by spinal injuries to lead independent lives

Hundreds of British families are adapting to life after a loved one has been diagnosed with paraplegia or tetraplegia. Managing the injury takes time, money and a colossal amount of care.

At Spencers, our work with those affected by spinal cord injury has highlighted to us the important issues of treatment, expectations and improvements to the care system we'd like to see.

For those affected, nothing is more important than the treatment they receive immediately after the spinal cord injury. The NHS has a duty to aid the rehabilitation of spinal cord injury (SCI) sufferers and unfortunately it has arguably failed to uphold this in recent years, due to catalogue of direct and indirect errors.

Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Care

Research carried out by Loughborough University, on behalf of spinal injury support charity Aspire, reveals the harsh truth about the state of care for SCI sufferer. Last year:

  • A fifth of sufferers are discharged from hospital and transferred to a care home, irrespective of their age. This is because local housing cannot suitably accommodate the sufferer's changed lifestyle and needs.
  • After further investigation, such care homes proved to be understaffed and, frankly, horrible places for those adjusting to their new lives. The research incorporated 20 interviews with residents from care homes across the UK, most of which suggested care workers don't have the necessary experience or know-how to look after those affected by traumatic injuries.
  • One interviewee explained how staff had attempted to move them using a 'slideboard', only to drop the patient on the floor, who sustained a broken arm as a result. On a separate occasion, that same person was provided the wrong medication - a potentially fatal mistake.

"When you are confronted by research like this it highlights the immediate and pressing need for improved care and higher standards to be enforced across the NHS."

John Spencer - Director, Spencers Solicitors

The Daily Reality

People affected by spinal cord injuries have increasingly expressed their frustrations with the care they receive through the media. In October 2012 Mr Hearn, who sustained life-changing damage to his spine in a road traffic accident while on a cricket tour in India, spoke to ITV about his life in a care home since suffering his injury.

Praising his wife and marriage for keeping him from suicide, he described life in the care home to be so limiting that "survival is often just the name of the game".

A couple months after the interview was aired, Mr Hearn spoke at a hearing held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury. Allison O'Reilly of Spencers Solicitors was in attendance and reported back on a shocking truth revealed by Mr Hearn.

Due to the rules of the care home, Mrs Hearn is prohibited from sleeping in the same bed as her husband. So, through her own inspirational commitment to her husband's care, she sleeps on the floor next to his bed.

"With statistics from Loughborough University showing that 60% of SCI people living in care homes have considered suicide, and distressing stories from people like Mr Hearn, it is clear that we have to do more to support those affected by spinal injuries."

Allison O'Reilly - former Chief Operating Officer, Spencers Solicitors.

Science and Expectation

Can technology help? Maybe, but there is currently no effective treatment for spinal cord injury and pinning hope on a cure can be detrimental.

Medical science is moving forward in the SCI area and can give distant hope. A breakthrough from across the Atlantic where a SCI sufferer stood tall for the first time since his workplace accident 11 years ago.

Michael Gore of Whiteville, North Carolina, was wearing a new lightweight exoskeleton that responds to the tilting of his upper body, in order to move his legs in the desired direction. If he leans forward, the 'robotic' device initiates the first step forward, then Michael just needs to alternate his tilting position from side to side and he effectively walks forward. To stop, he leans back.

It is a remarkable engineering achievement and is expected to go on sale in 2014 - for those who can afford the $50-70k price tag.

There is also innovation on wheelchair navigation as Georgia Tech researchers have developed the Tongue Drive System which may let people who are paralysed from the neck down drive a wheelchair using only a tongue piercing.

Stem cell research could well be the long term solution. A team of Scottish researchers was filmed by the BBC in April, explaining how their 'nanokicking' techniques could even help build new bones, directly from a sufferer's own stem cells.

Still as Tim Rushby-Smith and Professor Paul Kennedy suggest, the scientific progression is not a quick fix. Pinning everything on optimism in science can be detrimental. Just as those affected by spinal injuries need to adapt to their new lives, Britain needs to adapt its approach to health care.

Spinal Cord Injury Global Statistics
Between 133,000 and 226,000 traumatic spinal injuries were caused by accidents & violence in 2007.
For every million people in Western Europe, 16 are living with a spinal cord injury.
For every million people in America, 40 are living with an SCI - that equates to about 12,000 new cases annually.
Between 236,000 and 327,000 people in America are living with an SCI - approximately 155,000 have been diagnosed as paraplegic.
In Europe, land vehicle accidents, falls and workplace injuries make up the most likely causes for traumatic SCIs, respectively.
Globally, land vehicle accidents are the most likely cause of traumatic SCI
In Western Europe, more than 15% of SCI sufferers pass away within 10 years of the diagnosis.
Sources - Aspire press release, Global map for traumatic spinal cord injury epidemiology & National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Centre

Time to focus

In the future advances in medical science hint at a brighter future for SCI sufferers, but in the meantime the UK can and should do so much more to improve the way in which sufferers and families are cared for.

How can you help?

Share the www.everyeighthours.com website through social media and get involved today.

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