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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2000 Jan;68(1):8-13.

Snapshot view of emergency neurosurgical head injury care in Great Britain and Ireland.

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University Department of Neurosurgery, Institute of Neurology, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.



To study the availability of neurosurgical intensive care for the traumatically brain injured in all 36 neurosurgical centres in the United Kingdom and Ireland receiving head injuries, the response times to referral, and the advice given to the referring hospitals.


Telephone survey of receiving neurosurgeons regarding their bed status and their advice on three hypothetical case scenarios. Outcome measures included response times for an acute head injury to be accepted to a neurosurgical centre; the intensive care bed status; variations in advice given to the referring hospitals with regard to ventilation, use of mannitol, steroids, anticonvulsants, and antibiotics.


There were 43 neurosurgical intensive care beds available for an overall estimated population of 63.6 million. There were 1.8 beds available/million of the population for non-ventilated patients, 0.64 beds available/million for ventilated patients, and 0.55 beds available/million for ventilated paediatric patients. London had a shortage of beds with 0.19 adult beds for ventilation/million north of the Thames and 0.14 adult beds for ventilation/million south of the Thames. The median response time for a patient with an extradural haematoma to be accepted for transfer was 6 minutes and 89% of such a referral was accepted within 30 minutes. Clinically significant delays in receiving referrals (over 30 minutes) occurred in four units. Practices regarding the use of hyperventilation, mannitol, anticonvulsants, and antibiotics showed little conformity and in some cases were against the available evidence and advice given by published guidelines.


There is a severe shortage of available emergency neurosurgical beds especially in the south east of England. The lack of immediately available neurosurgical intensive care beds results in delays of transfer that could adversely affect the outcome of surgery for traumatic intracranial haematoma. Advice given to the referring units by the receiving doctors is very variable.

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