Last year single parent Robert Williamson lay in a road with a shattered pelvis, crushed bowel and dislocated hips, wondering if he would ever walk again. Just 12 months later Robert is back on his feet after being taken to St George’s Hospital immediately following his accident.

He had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident in Streatham Hill which saw him collide with a central reservation, propelled more than 10 feet up in the air, and end up under the wheels of a 17 tonne lorry – which ran over him twice.

Robert, from Balham, is one of 58 people whose lives were saved in the last year thanks to the capital’s four major trauma centres. St George’s Hospital is the major trauma centre for the South West London and Surrey Trauma Network and has all the specialist staff and state-of-the-art facilities to care for patients suffering life-threatening injuries, such as stabbings, gunshot wounds and serious road traffic accidents.

The trauma system was launched a year ago in London to improve care for the most urgent life threatening cases by providing immediate access to diagnostic scans and technology, as well as consultants who are available 24/7 to treat critically ill patients, to save lives and reduce the risk of permanent disability.

X-rays of Robert’s pelvis immediately after the accident showed it was completely shattered and he has had around 20 operations since. He still has two screws in his legs and is having regular physiotherapy to further improve his movement in advance of another operation at the end of this year.

Robert said: “Initially the doctors told me that if I was able to walk again I would definitely have a severe limp.

“Fortunately that isn’t the case now, but it was very bleak at the time – I had a lot of extreme pain. If I didn’t have access to the major trauma centre I might not be walking at this point. It’s incredibly important to me. I’m sure most people want to be like me and on the way back to their full health and ability after something like this, and I put this down to the trauma team.”

“My aim now is to get back my health then hopefully get back to work and try and return to a normal life again. I think being sent to a major trauma centre made a difference. If I hadn’t had access to the specialist consultant and the team around me, including the nurses, I don’t think I would be where I am now.”

Martin Bircher, consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at St George’s, who operated on Robert, said the type of open pelvic fracture Robert suffered, where there may be contact with the skin or internal organs, is one of the most dangerous. He said: “When I started treating these sorts of injuries in the late 1980s, the mortality was approaching 50 per cent.

“The concept of getting the right patient to the right hospital as quickly as possible has now become a reality for trauma patients across London. Through the tremendous team work of everybody from roadside to major trauma unit and beyond, Robert’s life was saved and his long term disability reduced. He has also to be congratulated on his amazing bravery and fortitude that not only has inspired us at St George’s but also helped other patients on the trauma unit while he was in.”

Notes to editors

A trauma system is a model of care for treating the most seriously injured patients, such as those with multiple injuries, including head injuries, life-threatening wounds and multiple fractures. It relies on a “hub” – a major trauma centre – working with a series of local trauma centres. The four major trauma centres in London operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are staffed by consultant-led specialist teams with access to the best diagnostic and treatment facilities.

The four major trauma centres in London are:

  • St George’s Hospital, Tooting
  • The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel
  • King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill
  • Imperial College, St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington

Ambulance staff use a triage tool to assess patients to ensure those with the most severe injuries, classed as major trauma, are taken to a major trauma centre for urgent treatment. This may involve bypassing their local hospital so they can immediately receive specialist care with access to CT scans and innovative technology. It involves the ambulance service and helicopter emergency medical service working with the major trauma network to ensure the most urgent patients are sent to the most appropriate place.

The capital’s trauma system was the first of its kind in England. In the last year around 4,000 people, or around 11 a day, have been treated at the centres where they have 24/7 access to consultants and faster access to diagnostic scans and treatments, increasing their chances of survival and lowering the risk of permanent disability.

The networks were set up on the basis of a maximum journey time of 45 minutes. In the last year the average journey time for a patient to reach a major trauma centre was 16 minutes.

A review of the work of the capital’s trauma network over the last year found the following:

  • The most common cases treated at the major trauma centres are injuries caused through road traffic accidents then falls, assaults and stabbings;
  • The most common injuries are head injuries;
  • The busiest time is 9pm, with the quietest just after rush hour;
  • The majority of major trauma patients in London are fairly young, aged between 19 and 40. A lot of these patients are male – with 74% of those treated at major trauma centres in the last year being men;
  • Incidences of major trauma are more concentrated in the most deprived areas, and more work will be done over the current year to explore this link.

Three of London’s trauma centres were opened in April last year, with the fourth – at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington – opening in January 2011. London’s trauma system is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the world, serving approximately 7.2 million people in London and 2 million from the surrounding area, plus daily commuters.

For more information, please contact the communications team at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust on 020 8725 5151 or Outside working hours, please page the team by calling 0844 822 2888, leaving a short message and contact details for pager SG548.