Published: 05/02/2004, Volume II4, No. 5891 Page 5

Accident and emergency departments had to cope with a ten-fold increase in fractured and broken limbs during last week's snowfalls, the president of the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine has claimed.

Dr John Heyworth criticised local authorities for failing to carry out adequate contingency planning, despite early notification that the UK was facing a 'big freeze'.

Despite reduction in the number of broken limbs caused by 'trips and slips' being a high-level priority, Dr Heyworth told HSJ that councils seem to have failed to grit pavements and pathways:

'They [local authorities] seem to have done well on gritting the main roads this year, but not pavements and paths which is where we are getting the falls.'

Mr Heyworth said the general picture across the UK was that A&E units had seen a ten-fold increase in breaks and fractures at the peak of the cold snap, on Thursday last week.

'We have seen a ten-fold increase - it always tends to happen on the first day of the cold snap. There have been lots of minor fractures but also a lot of complicated things needing surgery and people requiring a lot of time in hospital. This all costs a lot for them and for the health service. And, of course, they have an effect on A&E waiting targets.'

Responding to concerns that local authorities did not target residential pavements and pathways, a Local Government Association spokesperson said each council had its own contingency plan for clearing snow and ice.

'Local authorities are tackling as many roads and pathways as they can, but keeping main roads and high streets clear is going to be a higher priority than some of the smaller roads and pavements.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said extra numbers of critical care beds had been provided in response to forecasts of a cold snap, and that A&E departments 'were not experiencing any excessive pressures'.