Accidents are responsible for 14,000 deaths and millions of injuries across the UK each year, costing the country an estimated £150billion. Yet, prevention is fairly easy to implement and inexpensive to deliver. That's why it is one of RoSPA's key campaigns to make accident prevention a public health priority.
Accidents are untimely, often violent, events that can devastate families and whole communities. However, the prevention of accidental injury and death is often overlooked in public health circles because of its seeming complexity and its interdependence with other issues such as alcohol or illness.
Why accident prevention?
Accidents diminish the lives of nearly a third of people in England.
Following a lot of hard work in recent decades, big strides have been made in bringing down the number of people accidentally killed or injured on the road and at work. Yet, despite these significant gains, mortality statistics show that the overall trend for accidental death in the UK has been generally upwards in the last few years.
Accidents do not just cause immediate pain and suffering to the victim. Grief can last a lifetime and divorce and family breakdown are recognised as potential consequences of serious accidents. Families can suffer extreme financial hardship and the stress and strain of caring for an injured loved one should not be underestimated. For families in which a loved one suffers a severe and debilitating injury, life can change forever. Wider social and health impacts like these mean that accidents diminish the lives of at least a third of the population.
A central tenet of RoSPA's campaign, in addition to the huge burden of accidents, is the reality that accident prevention is, when compared to other potential public health interventions, easy to implement and inexpensive to deliver. Relatively few accidents are wholly novel or unforeseeable and the majority are easily preventable through the application of proportionate safety measures. For example, the low cost of projects such as home safety equipment and education schemes and 24/7 safety programmes in the workplace, both of which can enable people to make properly-informed decisions about their own safety, can be recouped if only relatively few injuries are prevented.
Accidents are responsible for 14,000 deaths and millions of injuries across the UK each year, costing the country an estimated £150billion.
In times of diminished resources, it makes sense to focus on areas that can have the most effect and can be tackled successfully at the least cost. Prevention is obviously better than cure; it is also much cheaper. And the cost savings that come from accident prevention can be almost immediate, coming in the same year that a project takes place.
Also, far from being burdensome or limiting enterprise and opportunity, a balanced and proportionate approach to safety is positive and liberating, enabling individuals, groups and organisations to pursue their goals with the confidence that hazards have been identified and risks adequately assessed and controlled.
Despite RoSPA's consistent lobbying - along with the work of many other organisations - accident prevention has remained a worryingly low priority for successive governments and has still not received the level of attention it deserves.
Several times in the last two decades, accidents have been listed as a priority by the Department of Health. But when there is a change of minister, the impetus often slows and suddenly the topic is dropped. Without government leadership and vocal support, others will not keep up the momentum.
In November 2010, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the Coalition Government's plans for public health in England, including the establishment of a new integrated service, called Public Health England.
RoSPA welcomed the opportunity to respond to the White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People: our strategy for public health in England, and two associated consultations. However, the White Paper's lack of recognition of the accidental injury problem, including its distribution, severities, costs or preventability, was of great concern. The focus instead was on other issues, such as alcohol-related ill health, diet, exercise and mental health.
In responding to the consultation, RoSPA put together the most comprehensive policy paper about accident prevention as a public health issue in its 94-year history. You can read RoSPA's full consultation response (PDF 343kb) here.
Accidental injury continues to be the main cause of death for children after infancy.
RoSPA urges the Government and other leaders in the public health field to reflect on the many arguments which, taken together, constitute an unassailable case for developing fresh action on accident and injury prevention. Only by making such action a permanently-embedded feature of public health policy and practice in the UK will we be able to get on with our vision: life, free from serious accidental injury.
RoSPA is developing a public health resource, in the form of a webpage, aimed at helping public health professionals deliver successes against the new, accident-related indicators in the Public Health Outcomes Framework for England 2013-2016:
- Indicator 4.3: Mortality from causes considered preventable
- Indicator 1.10: Killed and seriously injured casualties on England's roads
- Indicator 2.7: Hospital admissions caused by unintentional and deliberate injuries in under-18s
- Indicator 2.24: Falls and injuries in the over-65s / Indicator 4.14: Hip fractures in the over-65s
This resource will bring together articles, research and data relating to accident prevention in public health both in the UK and around the world. It will also provide information about accident prevention partnerships and projects across England.
RoSPA has issued a press release welcoming the inclusion of four explicit accident prevention indicators in the Government's new Public Health Outcomes Framework, but says the challenge now is to ensure local authorities and healthcare commissioning groups give them the attention they warrant.
The Public Health Outcomes Framework, published by the Department of Health in January 2012, sets out the desired outcomes for public health across England and how these will be measured.
The Daily Telegraph's health editor, Rebecca Smith, has written about our fight to make accident prevention a public health priority.
The campaign to make accident prevention a cornerstone of public health policy has received a significant boost after the Department of Health issued an update of its White Paper, "Healthy Lives, Healthy People" - the Health Secretary's "bold vision for a reformed public health system in England".
The revised blueprint, issued in July, 2011, now cites "accidental injury prevention" as one of the key responsibilities for local authorities - while calling for work to start now in developing local approaches. A final version of the Public Health Outcomes Framework is expected to follow later.
Though this gives us, here at RoSPA, great encouragement, we will not stop lobbying and consulting until detailed strategies have been drawn up and the necessary resources put in place to tackle the nation's "hidden epidemic" of accidental death and injury.
You can view the Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Update and Way Forward (PDF 1.2mb) document here.
Since we launched our public health campaign in March, 2011, we've continued to work very hard to win the ear of the UK's top decision-makers. As part of this endeavour, we submitted a robust case for accident prevention to the Health Committee's Public Health Inquiry.
Here you can view RoSPA's submission (PDF 106kb) to the Health Committee's Public Health Inquiry.