Injuries are the number one cause of death in children under 17, finds the first ever national study of nearly 700,000 hospitalisations over the past 10 years. That’s twice the number of hospital admissions as cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined. Furthermore, the most common place of child injury, is their own home (24.5%).
Each year about 149 children die and 680,000 children aged 16 and younger are hospitalised from injuries.
For every severely injured child, at least another 13 children are hospitalised with minor or moderate injuries.
The results are alarming;
- Child injury hospitalisation rates have not decreased over a ten year period.
- There were 686,409 injury-related hospitalisations, which equates to an agestandardised injury hospitalisation rate of 1489 per 100,000 children in Australia.
- For every severely injured child, there are at least 13 children hospitalised with minor or moderate injuries.
- The total hospital cost of injury hospitalisations of children during the ten year period was $2.1 billion. $212 million annually, and a mean cost per child of $3,119.
- Falls (38.4%), most often from playground equipment (8.3%) were the most common injury mechanism.
- Sporting activities (19.0%) were the most common specified activity performed at the time of the incident.
- The child’s home (24.5%) was the most common specified place of the incident.
- Fractures (41.9%) were the most common type of injury.
- A higher proportion of injured children resided in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.
- Children had a higher risk of dying from their injuries if they;
- lived in regional/remote Australia
- were aged ≤10 years
- were more severely injured
- were injured in a transport incident or following drowning and submersion or other threats to breathing or following self-harm
- sustained a head injury.
- The number and cost of child injury hospitalisations is likely to be underestimated. Both ACT and Tasmanian hospital costs were unable to be calculated for 2002-03 and 2003-04, and 20.4% of Victorian records (up to 3,975 child injury hospitalisations per year) were not able to be included.
- The logistics of linking national hospitalisation and mortality data were convoluted, time consuming, involved nine ethics applications and ten data custodian approvals, resulting in this one off “snapshot” report taking over four years to complete.
“The results are so alarming. It is clear we need to do something,” said Professor Kate Curtis, a co-author of the report and a professor of emergency and trauma nursing at Sydney University and a clinician academic in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District.
The results are so shocking that 17 researchers and clinicians specialising in pediatric medicine and childhood trauma have called on the federal government to urgently establish a new national injury prevention plan.
“It is quite astounding that injury to children is the largest cause of disability and death but we don’t have a national prevention plan,” said Professor Curtis.
It took four years for Professor Curtis and coauthor Professor Rebecca Mitchell from Macquarie University to get approval to access the data from state and federal governments collated in the injury report, which was funded by The Day of Difference Foundation.
Professor Mitchell said the group was calling for routine injury surveillance to begin as soon as possible to inform and evaluate immediate prevention strategies. They also want a federal agency to coordinate injury prevention strategies to identify and act locally where they saw injury hotspots occurring.
It would cost about $50 million a year, and would easily be recovered by safety improvements. Even eliminating one traumatic brain injury a year would save $5 million.
For emergency nurses like Professor Curtis there is nothing worse than a childhood trauma.
“An injury happens in a blink of an eye,” she said, turning an ordinary day into the worst for families.
“It’s horrific. As a clinician, having to see the impact and expression on their parents faces when they walk in and see their injured child on a hospital bed [being resuscitated]. No parent should have to go through that.”