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Some 400,000 people in the UK live with a spinal cord injury (SCI) and up to 1,000 people are newly injured each year, according to the spinal cord injury charity, Back Up Trust.
Having an SCI is completely life-changing. Depending on the nature of the injury, it can lead to full or partial paralysis in either the lower limbs (known as paraplegia) or in all four limbs (known as tetraplegia).
Regardless of how your spinal cord was damaged – whether caused by trauma due to an accident or as a result of infection or disease, SCI will have a significant impact on your life.
The spinal cord is responsible for communicating two-way messages to and from your brain to all parts of the body – your muscles, organs and your skin. If the spinal cord is damaged or injured, some of the messages or impulses may be ‘interrupted’ leading to partial or total loss of feeling or movement in parts of your body – including your limbs and your internal organs.
Physical difficulties may include: bladder or bowel issues; problems with sexual function; gastrointestinal problems; difficulty breathing; pain and tingling sensations and skin problems.
However, no one can really predict how SCI will affect certain people. Some survivors with catastrophic injuries find they can start walking again while others undergo years of physiotherapy just to regain some limited movement.
If the prognosis for SCI patients cannot be predicted, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the healthcare system is completely over-stretched when it comes to treating people with SCI.
A paralysed system?
According to SCI expert Wagih El Masri writing in NR Times, acutely injured patients and those with long-term paralysis who develop medical complications can no longer be admitted to spinal injury centres as quickly as they could in the past because they are almost always full.
The growing numbers of SCI patients in the UK in recent decades has left the healthcare system struggling to keep up.
And the result? SCI patients are spending weeks, even months, in hospitals or trauma centres which, although highly effective at keeping them stable, don’t have the necessary resources to meet their complex needs.
They lack the full complement of trained healthcare professionals with the necessary knowledge, expertise and skills as well as the appropriate equipment, processes and environment required to meet their specific needs and challenges.
What is needed for SCI patients is access to high quality, specialist rehabilitation but sadly, these SCI centres are just not available for everyone who needs them.
As outlined in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury Inquiry backed by the Spinal Injuries Association, the capacity of the service to meet the needs of SCI people is increasingly threatened by bed blocking and delayed discharges. Such delays often result from protracted negotiations over local health services, such as wheelchairs and specialist equipment, NHS Continuing Healthcare and care packages.
The group is calling on the Government to conduct an urgent service review to ensure that access to, and the capacity of, SCI specialist treatment and rehabilitation centres meet the needs of all SCI people in the UK.
It is hoped that the Government will listen to those working hard behind the scenes to level the playing field and lobby for better treatment, rehabilitation and long-term care with specialist multi-disciplinary teams for everyone with SCI.
Spinal Cord Injury seminar
For care and support workers, emergency services personnel and other professionals working with SCI people, Novum Law will be hosting a seminar in London in conjunction with Brake, the road safety charity on ‘Spinal Cord Injury – The Road to Recovery’ in March 2018.
The event will provide essential professional development and networking opportunities for everyone working with people affected by SCI.