ROAD ACCIDENTS AND HEAD INJURY

 

Madam, - We welcome the latest road traffic statistics from the Garda National Traffic Bureau which show a reduction in the overall number of road traffic deaths in Ireland for the year to date. We are encouraged to hear that we recently had the first weekend for four years during which there were no traffic deaths on Irish roads.

However, we would caution against complacency. Over the summer 2002 holiday period the Beaumont Hospital brain injury study group recorded a total of 215 patients attending the hospital for treatment of head injuries. The neurosurgical service was contacted for advice on the management of a further 77 patients. A significant proportion of these head injuries were due either to assaults (20 per cent) or road traffic accidents (16 per cent).

While we are seeing a reduction in the numbers of fatal road traffic accidents we are also seeing increasing numbers of patients sustaining head injury due to assault. This summer 79 patients were referred to Beaumont Hospital after assaults: 44 in June, 24 in July and 11 in August. Five were admitted to our intensive care unit following vicious attacks. Two died. Ages ranged between 10 and 23 years. All five were male.

In this Christmas holiday period we would like to highlight not only head injury deaths but also the equally important and often enormous disability suffered by people who survive head injury. The consequences for family members and carers of head injury patients may be life-long. For each trauma death it is estimated that three to four people live with permanent disability. Rehabilitation of post-injury disability may be needed for several years.

Considerable health service resources are required to treat head injury survivors and the economic and sociological consequences of such injury are devastating.

Finally, while there may be an impression that recent speed restrictions have been successful we are not confident that Irish driving behaviour will change quickly.

During June, July and August an average of 13 patients were referred with head injuries following road traffic accidents. The figures for November have just been made available. Eleven patients were referred; in other words, no change. - Yours, etc.,

Prof JACK PHILLIPS,

Dr LOURDA GEOGHEGAN,

Ms LINDA McEVOY,

Beaumont Hospital,

Dublin 9.