Spinal cord injuries are inevitably life-changing, but proper medical care can be hard to come by, with many spinal cord injured people forced to wait weeks or months for specialist treatment. Thus, the already slim chances of making a full recovery are significantly reduced.
In a bid to improve the status quo, the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) has launched a parliamentary campaign that aims to secure timely and comprehensive treatment for spinal cord injured people. The organisation is fighting for better access to clinical expertise, specialist care and rehabilitation services, as well as emotional support for patients and families.
The power of specialist care
Every year in the UK, more than 1,000 people are said to experience spinal cord injuries and very few make recoveries, often as a result of insufficient treatment in the immediate aftermath of injury. A combination of funding issues and a lack of hospital beds means that immediate access to specialist care is rarely available.
Dan Burden, the SIA’s Head of Public Affairs, informs: “We’re campaigning to protect and improve the nation’s Spinal Cord Injuries Centres, which offer highly-specialised rehabilitation, empowering people to reach their full potential.
“There was a recent case of a gentleman who had developed tetraplegia after complications with shoulder surgery, causing paralysis, and he was told that he would never again speak, feed himself or breathe without the use of a ventilator. He had to wait 12 months to be moved to a specialist Spinal Cord Injuries Centre, but just weeks later he was able to do all those things. His injuries remained severe, but because of the specialist care he is now able to make the most of family life.
“Non-specialist settings just don’t have the same ambition for you - they’re not aware of what you’re capable of and what you can become - but experienced nurses, physios, occupational therapists and medics can help ensure spinal cord injured people manage their conditions and enjoy a much better quality of life.”
Safeguarding the future
There are currently 11 specialist Spinal Cord Injuries Centres in the UK, but with the NHS facing well-documented financial pressures, they have come under threat. The SIA want assurances over their future, and for MPs to push for better nationwide access.
Mr Burden continues: “There are five Spinal Cord Injuries Centres in the north of England, but only three in the south, despite it being the most populated part of the UK. We want to see equal access, with more specialist centres, but we also need to protect the current ones.
“You can’t replace decades of experience overnight, so If the NHS loses spinal cord injury specialists, the level of care will inevitably suffer. We’re raising awareness amongst parliamentarians, seeking their support on safeguarding staff and improving access.”
Strike a Cord
NHS England is currently conducting a service review on specialist centres, and the SIA’s priority is to ensure that the report accurately reflects the experiences of those affected by spinal cord injury. The next step is to ensure that all recommendations are taken seriously and enacted in parliament, hence the Strike a Cord campaign calling for MP support.
Since launching in March, the campaign has led to a 20% increase in the membership of an all-party parliamentary group on spinal cord injury, and the SIA is hoping that this increased political influence can affect NHS decision making.
The value of specialist expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of critical injuries is undeniable, and tailored rehabilitation can hugely increase the quality of life for spinal cord injured people and their families. The SIA is encouraging members of the public to write to their MPs, expressing the importance of specialist Spinal Cord Injury Centres and asking them to get join the all-party parliamentary group on spinal cord injury.
Malcolm Underhill is a Partner at IBB Law, specialist brain and spinal injury solicitors.