UK attacked for lack of injury prevention strategy

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 30 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1561
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

    The BMA has called on the UK government to set up a national body for injury prevention and control, which would work in partnership across government departments.

    Preventing Injuries, a report from the BMA's board of science and education, has said that injury prevention should be recognised as a major public health problem as it carries one of the highest costs in both human and economic terms.

    Nearly 20000 people in the United Kingdom are fatally injured each year. Injuries require 30 million medical consultations each year and consume at least 5% of NHS spending.

    Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA head of science and health policy, said that the cost of injuries tends to be underestimated “not just in terms of human suffering but also in terms of the cost to the NHS and to employers.” She added: “Injury prevention can save you huge amounts of money for relatively little expense.”

    Young people in particular are vulnerable to injury. In 1998 over half the deaths of 15–24 year olds in England and Wales were due to injuries. The burden of injury falls hardest on those from lower socioeconomic groups. Between 1989 and 1992 death rates for children in social class V were 83 per 100000 compared with 16 per 100000 for social class I.

    However, unlike the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, the United Kingdom has no national strategy for preventing injuries. “Eleven government departments could have some role in injury prevention, so things such as data gathering fall into gaps,” said Dr Nathanson, “There is a clear need for joined up government in this area.”

    The many possible effective prevention interventions include drink driving legislation, use of motorcycle and cycle helmets, and child resistant medicine containers. Yet not all proved interventions are implemented. Smoke alarms, for example, are still not widely used. Dr Nathanson said: “House fires are a particular problem in deprived areas, where smoking is more common. When local authorities have put smoke alarms into houses, fires have been reduced.”

    The report makes several recommendations—for example, injury surveillance centres should be established in each country of the United Kingdom to collate, interpret, and disseminate injury statistics.

    There also should be more research spending on injury prevention to bring it up to the level of other major public health problems. The amount of money spent on research into injury prevention is small compared with that spent on cancer and heart disease, even in countries that have a national strategy for injury prevention, such as the United States (see graph).

    See editorial on p 1557.

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