Health

Weather check 'could predict' A&E injury rates

A&E unit
Image caption A&E units tend to gear themselves up for the winter

Taking the temperature outside A&E could give staff an accurate way to predict number of injuries and who will suffer them.

Experts know that extreme weather can affect A&E patient numbers.

Warwick University researchers found that even 5C falls or rises could make a difference to injury rates.

Rates for children were up to 70% higher in summer compared with winter, the Emergency Medicine Journal reported.

Many trusts plan ahead for winter, when the arrival of frost, snow and ice, as well as flu and pneumonia, is traditionally linked to busier shifts.

The study of 60,000 patients found that each 5C drop in minimum temperature during the day meant a three per cent rise in serious accidents to adults.

Heat of summer

The arrival of snow and ice led to an eight per cent rise, as the number of slips, trips and car accidents rose.

However, the study found other increases linked to the heat of the summer, often viewed as a slightly calmer period in emergency departments.

Even among adults, every five degree centigrade rise in maximum temperature during the day, and additional two hours of sunshine, meant a 2% rise in the rate of serious injury.

This effect was particularly noticeable in children, who are more likely to get injured while playing outside during the warmer months.

For them, a 5C rise meant a 10% increase in injury cases, and two hours of extra sunshine boosted cases by six per cent.

While these connections were made by comparing records of hospital admissions with historical weather data, the researchers are convinced that the principle could be used to help emergency teams plan ahead for days when their workload is likely to be higher.

They wrote: "This model could clearly be used to provide predictions of daily admissions, with clear implications for the scheduling of staff and other resources at UK trauma-receiving hospitals.

"The challenge for the future is to improve forecast accuracy further in order to provide sufficient time for the detailed planning and allocation of resources that would be necessary to implement these models."

Professor John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, agreed that the detailed study could help clinical teams know what to expect on any particular day, although he questioned whether the current accuracy of medium-term weather forecasts was good enough to justify staffing changes.

He said: "We've always known that there is increased activity in emergency departments during winter, but in recent years, we've noticed that this doesn't really diminish during the summer months - we remain busy all year round.

"If you have your emergency department set up to deal with this expected load, then you can deal with extra cases due to weather conditions.

"However, this is a very helpful study."

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