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Major trauma services

Major trauma means multiple, serious injuries that could result in death or serious disability. These might include serious head injuries, severe gunshot wounds or road traffic accidents.

These sorts of injury are actually quite rare and most hospital accident and emergency departments see fewer than one case of major trauma each week.

As major trauma is so uncommon, it is not possible for all hospitals to have the equipment and specialist doctors needed to treat it effectively.

For this reason, patients with multiple, serious injuries may need to be transferred to a major trauma centre. This is a hospital where they can be operated on immediately, if necessary, and where there is a full range of trauma specialists, including orthopaedics, neurosurgery and radiology teams. Care at major trauma centres is led by a trauma consultant, who is available 24 hours a day.

Patients who have suffered a severe injury often need complex reconstruction surgery and care from many professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

This care is very important and many patients need a personalised rehabilitation programme taking many months to help them return to an active life. This care may take place at the major trauma centre or other units in the area. 

What does good trauma care look like?

Good trauma care involves getting the patient to the right place at the right time for the right care.

Trauma care flow chart

This means:

  • Having the seriousness of the injury identified as early as possible, ideally at the scene of the incident.
  • If this is not possible, investigations such as CT scanning should take place immediately on arrival at the first hospital.
  • If the injury requires specialist care, the patient should be moved to a major trauma centre as quickly as possible.
  • Patients should have access to an appropriate programme of rehabilitation to assist their recovery.  

How the NHS is improving major trauma care in England

It has been estimated that by improving the organisation of trauma care, an additional 450 to 600 lives could be saved in NHS hospitals. With detailed planning regional trauma networks went live across England in April 2012. These are based on agreed principles of care using local models and implementation in each geographical area.

You can download a map showing the location of the major trauma centres (PDF 0.99mb), some of which will treat both adults and children, others will one or the other group of patients.


Page last reviewed: 10/04/2012

Next review due: 10/04/2014

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