Better spinal injury outcomes goal of new policy

  • Nikki Kaye
  • Jonathan Coleman
Health ACC

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and ACC Minister Nikki Kaye have confirmed that from next month people who suffer spinal cord injuries will be taken straight to a specialist hospital if feasible, to maximise their long-term health and rehabilitation outcomes.

“We know it is best for patients with suspected spinal cord injuries to get to a specialist spinal service as soon as possible for treatment,” says Dr Coleman.

“This helps to minimise the potential for complications. It also means that rehabilitation can start sooner so optimal long-term outcomes can be achieved.

“The country’s two adult spinal specialist centres are at Middlemore and Christchurch Hospitals. The children’s specialist centre is housed at Starship Hospital in Auckland.

“If someone has other major injuries, they may need to go to the nearest appropriate hospital to get life-saving treatment first. They will then be moved to a specialist centre as soon as it is appropriate.”

The new approach is one of a number of objectives under the New Zealand Spinal Cord Impairment Action Plan. This is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Health and ACC, developed in conjunction with a wide range of stakeholders including St John and Wellington Free Ambulance.

“The Action Plan sets out a vision to achieve the best possible health and wellbeing for people with spinal cord impairment, to enhance their quality of life and enable them to participate as fully as possible in society,” says Ms Kaye.

“Last year, around 100 people received spinal cord injuries in New Zealand, and ACC currently supports around 2,000 people with spinal injuries overall. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause.

“As well as doing all that we can to support those with injuries, it’s also important that we address the cause of these injuries through cross-agency injury prevention initiatives.

“ACC recently introduced risk rating, which means ACC car levies now reflect how safe a car is in a crash. This aims to increase awareness of vehicle safety, as part of broader measures to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on our roads.”

Training for ambulance staff has been underway since June, to enable the new approach to take effect from 1 August 2015.

Dr Coleman and Ms Kaye made the announcement at St John Headquarters in Auckland this morning.

A copy of the Action Plan can be found on the Ministry of Health website: