A revised approach to how emergency services respond to patients in motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) could help to save lives, according to new research.
In 2021 a total of 127,967 casualties and 1,560 deaths were caused by MVCs in England. Of these, over 7,000 patients needed to be assisted to leave their vehicle, in a process known as extrication. This often involves trained Fire and Rescue personnel using the ‘Jaws of Life’ (a hydraulic apparatus) and other similar tools to pry apart the wreckage, in order to free people trapped inside. During this process, patients may remain in their vehicle for an average of 30 minutes while slow, careful movements are used, in an attempt to avoid potential spinal injuries.
However, according to new research, this approach of ‘movement minimisation’ is in fact rather outdated and could be causing more harm to patients.
In a recent series of studies utilising the Trauma Audit Research Network (TARN) database, Professor Tim Nutbeam, Honorary Professor at the University of Plymouth and Emergency Medicine Consultant at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, suggested together with colleagues that spinal cord injuries after MVCs are actually quite rare, only affecting around 0.7% of all extrications. The benefit of current methods used for extrication may therefore be outweighed by the additional time taken to perform these manoeuvres, and for the 99.3% of patients who do not have a spinal injury, spending unnecessary time trapped in a car is linked to increased mortality rates due to other time-critical injuries.
Now, thanks to additional funding received by the Road Safety Trust, Tim has continued his research to evaluate the effectiveness of extrication methods used for people trapped after being involved in a MVC. Working in collaboration with colleagues across a number of organisations* including the National Fire Chiefs Council, the team utilised novel motion tracking technology to compare cervical and lumbar spine movement, recreating MVC situations with healthy volunteers.