Southern DHB is preparing to reduce preventable deaths from major trauma, with the creation of the Southern Trauma Service.

Mr Mike Hunter has now been appointed Trauma Medical Director, joining Trauma Nurse Coordinators Rebecca Coats (Southland) and Fiona Thomas and Gordon Speed (Dunedin) to form a team tasked with improving coordination of care of patients who have suffered major multiple injuries. 

The service draws on international research showing that, through better coordination of care, lives are saved, patients spend less time in hospital and achieve better results through rehabilitation.

Hunter says the international evidence “surprises everyone who sees it”.

“There is an assumption that when patients reach hospital with major injuries, and later die, that this is a tragic but acceptable consequence of the trauma they have suffered. We now know that when care is better coordinated, the potential for saving lives is alarmingly high.”

If the results achieved in Victoria, Australia held for Southern DHB, Hunter expects five or six lives per year could be saved south of the Waitaki.

Hunter explains that traditionally, care is essentially organised by major organs of body parts – one team specialises in bones, another in kidneys, another in brains, for example.

However, for patients with injuries in multiple body systems this may mean that opportunities for best practice are lost, as a result of clinicians not fully understanding the nuances of other disciplines.

“It’s not a lack of competence, or people not doing their best. But it could mean overlooking the need to provide vaccinations if the patient has lost their spleen, or achieving consistent and early prevention for deep vein thrombosis, for example.” Taken together, these relatively minor interventions can make a life-saving difference.

The initial focus for the team is data collection, to provide a better picture of how many patients are admitted with major trauma, what their care pathways are like, how long they are spending at each stage of the process, and the survival and recovery outcomes for patients.

Longer term, the service hopes to develop guidelines for Southern DHB, and support patients through offering a consistent care team throughout their journey.

It won’t happen overnight, says Hunter. “Other places that have moved towards this model have implemented changes over many years. But we’re excited to be moving in this direction to provide better outcomes for our people.”

The team’s work contributes to the South Island major trauma workstream, in alliance with South Island DHBs to improve outcomes for patients.

“I’m delighted that following the appointment of Mr Mike Hunter to the position of Trauma Medical Director the Southern trauma team is now complete. Their work will give greater insight of the extent of trauma in the district, and through better coordination it will improve the recovery outcomes of our trauma patients,” says Southern DHB Chief Executive, Chris Fleming.