Irish hospitals treat one cyclist every three days for major trauma sustained in road traffic incidents, according to new research.
A total of 410 cyclists with major trauma were treated between 2014 and 2016, and one-fifth had sustained very serious injuries resulting in admission to intensive care, according to the research.
Twelve of the cyclists died, all of whom had head injuries, according to Dr John Cronin, emergency medicine consultant at St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin.
Wearing a helmet was associated with a significantly reduced rate of head injury, he said. Some 27 per cent of cyclists wearing helmet had head injuries, against 52 per cent of those not wearing helmets.
This is the first time hospital data has been analysed nationally for cycling injuries. Three-quarters of those injured were men and the average age of patients with cycling injuries was 44 years.
Cycling has taken over from golf as the sport favoured by people who have finished with competitive sport, he noted, and the number of cyclists grew by almost half between 2011 and 2016.
Of the 410 cycling injuries recorded, 130 involved a motor vehicle, 23 fellow cyclists, 23 mountainbiking, while 53 occurred when the cyclist hit an obstacle. Seven cases arose from a collision with an animal and 173 had an unspecified cause; many of these are thought to be single-vehicle incidents, often caused by mechanical issues or a loss of control.
Summer was the worst period of injuries and almost half of the cases recorded occurred during rush hour. One in three cyclists required an operation.
“Examining the injury characteristics suggests preventative strategies such as improved cycling infrastructure may be required,” Dr Cronin told a trauma conference at the Mater hospital.
While a bike-helmet wearer himself, he pointed out that many cyclists object to making this compulsory. Motorists tend to driver close and more riskily to cyclists wearing helmets, it is argued, while compulsory helmet-wearing could result in fewer people taking up a healthy activity.
One life a week could be saved in Ireland and many more people prevented from lifelong injury if an integrated trauma network were introduced, the conference heard.
More productive years of life are lost due to traumatic injury than heart disease and cancer combined, according to the World Health Organisation.
Every year in Ireland there are about 1,600 major traumas; most occur in the home and are caused by falls of less than 2 metres.
This suggested that just as road safety measures were introduced to tackle traffic deaths, interventions were now needed to address home safety, Dr Conor Deasy, a trauma consultant at Cork University Hospital, said. "Do we need NCTs on our houses to address trip hazards, for example?" he asked.
Dr Fran O’Keeffe, consultant in emergency medicine at the Mater, said “heroic work” was being done by medical staff in all 26 of Ireland’s trauma-receiving hospitals, but victims of trauma could have better outcomes if they were always brought directly to the right hospital, with skilled medical professionals on hand, first time.
Figures shows one-quarter of trauma patients were transferred to another hospital for their care in 2017.