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Spinal Cord Injuries and Statistics

Statistically, the average human has fewer than four limbs. What does that mean, what does it tell us about humans, and what does it tell us about statistics?

What follows is intended as no more than a tour through statistics that catch the eye in the work we do as spinal cord injury solicitors. But it also shows how we get to the stark reality that, statistically, in the UK a person suffers a life changing spinal cord injury every three and half hours or so. First though it will t put those statistics in the wider context of population and compensation claims data.

In the last 10 years the UK population has grown by 5-10%, (and 15-20% since 2000), Despite that, the number of compensation claims has steadily declined year on year and every year in the last 10 (data before 2010 is harder to access, and wasn’t collated so as to be meaningful in this analysis prior to 2007/8). The UK population is currently around 68 million.

In 2012-13 1,048,309 claims were made. Statistically that means that approximately 1.6% of the then population had a claim registered with the Department of Work and Pensions, the central ‘authority’ on claims numbers. In 2021 there were 564,359 personal injury compensation claims registered which would equate to approximately 0.8% of the population.

Have things become safer – did ‘health and safety gone mad’ bring about changes? Probably not – people still get injured – the figures showing how many made a compensation claim is not confirmation of how many were injured. That we have probably eroded people’s routes to justice – and by doing so heaped a larger burden on the State upon which those people depend more than they might otherwise have seems inescapable; but exploring that further is beyond the scope of this article.

Of the cases brought in 2020-21 the split across claim types saw that most claims arose through motor incidents (79.2%); public liability and employers liability cases were 9.1% and 8.1% of all claims respectively. Clinical negligence claims numbered 14,485 and represented 2.6% of all claims. Claims in the ‘other’ and ‘not known’ categories represented a combined 1% of all claims.

So if that is the wider population and compensation claims context, what of the spinal cord injuries community?

Of the approximately 68 million people living in the UK there are thought to be approximately 50,000 people living with spinal cord injury. That equates to a ‘community’ of just 0.07% of the population at large.

There are thought to be approximately 13,300 A&E appointments involving spinal injury in the UK annually, of which it is thought 2,500 may involve spinal cord injury.

That suggests there would be 48 spinal cord injuries per week.

It would mean around 7 spinal cord injuries per day or …..

one person suffering a spinal cord injury every 3.5 hours or so.

It is difficult to do more than speculate on how many of those suffering spinal cord injury have grounds to make and do make a compensation claim. The received wisdom of a few years ago was that 3/10 spinal cord injured people had grounds to make a claim for compensation arising from how they sustained their injury.

That seems a high proportion when it is considered that only recently more injuries per year than the anecdotal 1000 or so injuries that were previously assumed to have been suffered annually have been identified. It seems unlikely all of those who suffered spinal cord injury and had a compensation claim to make would have been making compensation claims all this time while not being visible to the rehabilitation centres.  There are 8 specialist spinal cord injuries rehabilitation centres in England.

Equally the data around the type of spinal cord injury sustained and the type of patient (that is the age and gender of the person) suffering it, suggests that the typical patient is getting older and the injury is being sustained often in connection with the effects of ageing. This may result in greater numbers of clinical negligence claims than previously had been the case where for example the faller presents at hospital but only later the cord compression is noticed and by which time irreversible damage has been done.

Around 51% of spinal cord injuries year on year are thought to involve tetraplegia; and just under 50% have a traumatic (rather than an organic) cause.

The male to female ratio of spinal cord injured patients is around a two thirds to one third (male to female) split.

Around 5% of newly injured patients are aged over 80 and 2% are aged under 14.

All that can be sensibly said is that spinal cord injury can and does happen to anyone at any time.

Trying to identify a typical or average patient type in all of this is a fool’s errand, even if the data sources were more joined up and required less extrapolation and assumptions to make sense of them. The average human, after all, has fewer than four limbs and inevitably, as with most statistical analyses, that ‘fact’ takes us only so far in furthering our understanding and widening our perspective.

What can be drawn from all of this though is that

  • spinal cord injury is rare but happens to at least three people every day;
  • there is a community of 50,000 people who have been through what the newly injured patient goes through;
  • less than 1% of the general population makes a compensation claim in any year, and the number of spinal cord injuries claims (even though as many as 30% of the 2,500 thought to suffer the injury each year might have grounds to make a claim) is likely to be measured in the hundreds;
  • specialist, experienced and expert legal support may be hard to find but is essential in helping people who’s lives have been affected by spinal cord injury.

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