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Trauma surgeon urges motorcyclists and drivers to take extra care this summer

09 Aug 2018

  • There were more than 10,000 hospital admissions for motorbike rider injuries in 2016-17
  • Young men aged 20-29 are most likely to be admitted to hospital for a motorbike injury with a 22 % increase in admissions in a decade
  • The number of hospital admissions for a motorcycle injury in patients aged over 50 has also increased by 65%

A leading trauma surgeon has spoken of the devastating injuries he has seen while treating patients who have been involved in motorbike accidents, as new figures show there were more than 10,000 admissions to hospital for motorcycle rider injuries in England, in 2016-2017.

Mr Daniel Redfern is a Consultant in Trauma and Orthopaedics at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and a Regional Director of the Royal College of Surgeons for the North-West. He works in a level one trauma centre, treating patients in Lancashire and South Cumbria, which includes the Lake District.

Mr Redfern says he has been struck by how many young people are involved in motorbike accidents and the tragic consequences this can have on their lives. Motorcyclists make up just 1% of total road traffic, but account for 19%7 of all road user deaths and Mr Redfern’s experience of treating patients corroborates this.

He says: “It’s been another summer of awful accidents. We’ve treated patients with injuries that have threatened their limbs, as well as spinal fractures and spinal cord injuries resulting in full or partial paralysis.

“Young men and women are disproportionately affected by motorbike accidents. It is tragic that people die in these accidents. What is almost as bad is that people sustain life-changing injuries which will substantially impact the rest of their lives.”

He says the majority of the people he treats for motorbike accidents are male, aged 20-29, but he has noticed another rising trend, again males, in their 50s. He also sees a lot of people who have been injured from riding pillion, as a passenger.

The latest figures from NHS Digital show that young men and women aged 20-29 are the most likely to be admitted to hospital for motorcycle-related injuries. There were 2,992 hospital admissions in 2016-2017 for motorcycle riders with injuries, an increase of 19.7% compared to 2006-2007, when the figure was 2,499.

Looking at the data for men aged 20-29, in 2016-2017 there were 2,795 hospital admissions for motorcycle-related injuries. This was a 22 % increase on 2006-2007, when there were 2,298 hospital admissions for men of this age.

The number of hospital admissions for people aged over 50 with a motorbike injury has increased by 65%, from 1,320 in 2006/2007 to 2,183 in 2016/2017.

Meanwhile, the same period saw a 39% decrease in people aged under 20 being admitted to hospital for an injury while riding a motorbike – from 2,707 in 2006-2007 to 1,657 in 2016/2017.

New rules were introduced in January 2013, which changed the type of motorbikes people can ride, depending on their age and competence. Riders now have to be 24 before they can ride the most powerful motorbikes.8 This could explain the decrease in people aged under 20 being admitted to hospital for an injury while riding a motorbike.

However, Mr Redfern says that from his experience, motorcyclists and their passengers still underestimate how vulnerable they are on the road.

“If a car driver and motorcyclist both have a collision at 30mph, it is unlikely the motorcyclist will walk away from the accident,” he explains. “The safety cage of a car provides protection. I don’t think motorcyclists or car drivers appreciate how vulnerable a motorcyclist is until they are involved in an accident. They will be that much worse injured. ”

He adds that as a surgeon, it is devastating when a motorcyclist is admitted to hospital with serious injuries because he knows that their recovery will take months and sometimes years.

He says: “When you’re on call and you meet someone for the first time who has been badly injured in a motorbike accident, you know you are going to be seeing them for months, maybe even years. Those first conversations are very difficult to have. They believe they will be restored to how they were and back on their bikes within a very short period of time. You know that’s not possible. You are also aware that they are likely to endure long term, possibly permanent pain and disability, poorer career prospects, even an effect on their ability to enjoy a family life.”

Mr Redfern says the long winding roads of the Lake District, coupled with the stunning views, must be very inviting for motorcyclists. He adds: “It must look like a race track but unlike a race track, the environment is totally hostile, particularly if you come off.”

He would like drivers to be aware of the large numbers of motorcyclists on the road in the summer months, especially at weekends, and for motorists to take extra care.
“I don’t think people realise how vulnerable motorcyclists are. I urge drivers to be aware of motorcyclists when they are out on the roads and implore motorcyclists not to take unnecessary risks.”

Patient case study

Mr Paul Waterfield, 61, who lives in Preston, was knocked off his scooter in June 2017 after a van reversed as he tried to overtake it. He was thrown off his scooter, hit a bollard in the middle of the road and a lamppost. He suffered head injuries, nearly lost his arm, broke all his ribs on one side and punctured his lung. He was in an induced coma for 5 weeks and in the Royal Preston Hospital for 109 days.

He says: “I’ve been riding my scooter for 40 years and I decided to go out on a summer’s evening as my wife is a nurse and she was working a late shift. This accident completely changed my life. I can’t use my left hand properly because of the nerve damage and I have plates in my arm. I can’t walk up hill without getting out of breath and if I sneeze I have pain in my chest.

“My wife was due to retire in June and instead she was in hospital for four months caring for me.”

Mr Waterfield says that he has been unable to return to work as an engineer because of the damage to his hand, can no longer part-take in his hobby of renovating motorbikes and cars, or walk his dog without getting out of breath, following the accident.

“The problem,” he explains “is that you can ride carefully on your motorbike or scooter but even then, if a driver does not see you, you’ll be involved in a nasty accident. I’d been riding for 40 years before this accident happened.”

Notes to editors

  1. Mr Paul Waterfield, the patient case study, is available for interview. Please contact the RCS Press Office for more information.
  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
  3. NHS Digital provided the RCS with figures for finished hospital admission episodes (FAEs) for motorcyclist injuries, using the following external cause codes:
    V20 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with pedestrian or animal
    V21 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with pedal cycle
    V22 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with two- or three-wheeled motor vehicle
    V23 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with car, pick-up truck or van
    V24 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with heavy transport vehicle or bus
    V25 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with railway train or railway vehicle
    V26 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with other non-motor vehicle
    V27 Motorcycle rider injured in collision with fixed or stationary object
    V28 Motorcycle rider injured in non-collision transport accident
    V29 Motorcycle rider injured in other and unspecified transport accidents
  4. N.B. These codes do not include people who have been injured by motorcyclists (pedestrians, or car drivers for example).
  5. The data – which is available upon request - is for activity in English NHS Hospitals and English NHS commissioned activity in the independent sector. FAE is not a count of people – it is a count of admissions, so these figures cannot be used to suggest the precise number of people who have been admitted for a condition, because it is possible some people may have been admitted more than once within the same year.
  6. For more information, please contact the Press Office:
    Telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052
    Out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832

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