Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Icy conditions cause people to fall 'in big numbers'

Dr John Heyworth
People must be vigilant about their footwear in the coming days

Dr John Heyworth is head of the Accident and Emergency consultants and runs the emergency department at Southampton General Hospital.

He has been reflecting on the burden the weather is putting on the NHS:

"We are seeing evidence that people are still falling over in large numbers on the icy surfaces.

My colleagues in A&E departments around the country are reporting that they are very busy with fractures because the paths are so treacherous and have not been cleared.

The pressures on the system are likely to last for several weeks

And it is from doing very basic activities like going to the shops for milk or a paper or going to work.

But thankfully the numbers we are seeing who are suffering hypothermia from the cold are small.

Complex fractures

The problem is that some of the fractures are complex and need immediate surgery or stabilisation and then surgery in a few weeks.

So the pressures on the system are likely to last for several weeks.

Even if we have a thaw now the problems will persist.

The great majority of people we have seeing have not behaved in a reckless manner they are simply falling over

Hospitals around the country are now refocusing their priorities on those who are waiting for fracture surgery.

In the elderly this tends to be broken hips but we are seeing quite large numbers of younger people with broken ankles, wrists, shoulders and elbows who will need complex surgery to mend them.

So there is going to be sustained pressure on the hospitals for surgery and beds and we have already experienced gridlocks.

Most hospitals have cut beds in the last few years and this need for surgery puts too much pressure on the system.

'Big demand'

We have seen some injuries from sledging and those have often involved head injuries from collisions with people, trees, fences and lampposts.

If you happen to fall, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy recommends:
Rest - to protect the damaged tissue from further injury
Ice - apply a bag of frozen peas or similar to the area
Compression - wrap a bandage round the swollen part to reduce pain and swelling
Elevate - raise the injured area as high as comfortable
Referral - Seek appropriate medical help as soon as possible

It is a type of injury we do not expect to see in such numbers and it is not the children, but their parents and grandparents who are coming off worst.

A 10-year-old has softer bones and is falling from a lower height so can survive these impacts better.

All of these patients will need extensive support afterwards and some will need stays in hospital to recover.

So that will place a big demand on the hospital and the community in terms of the time they have to take off work.

But the great majority of people we are seeing have not behaved in a reckless manner, they are simply falling over.

Hospital staff have risen to the challenge and many have stayed overnight in hospitals to make sure they will be available.

Orthopaedic surgeons in many hospitals have based themselves in A&E to help with assessing the fractures and prioritising the patients.

We are already seeing routine operations being cancelled in order to cope with the demand for orthopaedic surgery.

It depends what happens in the next seven to 10 days whether we will see major disruption to hospital waiting lists."

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