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Specialisation of spinal services: consequences for cervical trauma management in the district hospital

Ulfin Rethnam1*, James Cordell-Smith2 and Amit Sinha1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedics, Glan Clwyd Hospital, Bodelwyddan, UK

2 Department of Orthopaedics, Morriston Hospital, Swansea, UK

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Journal of Trauma Management & Outcomes 2007, 1:6  doi:10.1186/1752-2897-1-6

Published: 30 November 2007



Specialisation in spinal services has lead to a low threshold for referral of cervical spine injuries from district general hospitals. We aim to assess the capability of a district general hospital in providing the halo vest device and the expertise available in applying the device for unstable cervical spine injuries prior to transfer to a referral centre.


The study was a postal questionnaire survey of trauma consultants at district general hospitals without on-site spinal units in the United Kingdom. Seventy institutions were selected randomly from an electronic NHS directory. We posed seven questions on the local availability, expertise and training with halo vest application, and transferral policies in patients with spinal trauma.


The response rate was 51/70 (73%). Nineteen of the hospitals (37%) did not stock the halo vest device. Also, one third of the participants (18/51, 35%, 95% confidence interval 22 – 50%) were not confident in application of the halo vest device and resorted to transfer of patients to referral centres without halo immobilization.


The lack of equipment and expertise to apply the halo vest device for unstable cervical spine injuries is highlighted in this study. Training of all trauma surgeons in the application of the halo device would overcome this deficiency.