Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Avoidable factors contributing to death of children with head injury.

British Medical Journal 1990; 300 doi: (Published 13 January 1990) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1990;300:87
  1. P M Sharples,
  2. A Storey,
  3. A Aynsley-Green,
  4. J A Eyre
  1. Department of Child Health, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


    OBJECTIVE--To assess the incidence of potentially avoidable complications contributing to death of children with head injuries. DESIGN--Retrospective review of children who died with head injuries from 1979 to 1986 from data of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Hospital Activity Analyses, case notes, coroners' records, and necropsy reports. SETTING--District general hospitals and two regional neurosurgical centres in Northern region. RESULTS--255 Children died from head injury in the region, the mortality being 5.3 per 100,000 children per year. Head injury was the single most important cause of death in children aged greater than 1 year, accounting for 15% of deaths in children aged 1-15 years and a quarter for those aged 5-15 years. 121 Potentially avoidable factors possibly or probably contributing to death occurred in 81 children (32%). Half the children (125) died before admission, 27 of whom (22%) had potentially avoidable factors possibly or probably contributing to death, and 130 died after admission, 54 of whom (42%) had 93 such factors, which included failure of diagnosis or delayed recognition of intracranial haemorrhage or associated injury, inadequate management of the airways, and poor management of the transfer between hospitals. IMPLICATIONS--Regions should revise urgently their guidelines for optimal management and indications for neurosurgical referral to include children with severe head injuries and audit their systems of care for all patients with head injuries.