Billions to mend accident victims
It could be costing the country in the region of $8 billion annually to treat road-accident victims at the various hospitals across the island.
Preliminary findings from data gathered for 2014 by the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA), in association with the University Hospital of the West Indies, reveals that it cost close to $2 billion to treat road-accident victims for the first three months of that year.
In excess of 13,000 persons were treated for injuries suffered from motor vehicle accidents in 2014, while there were 331 road fatalities.
The indirect cost of productivity lost for the 331 persons who died as a result of road accidents in 2014 was calculated at $3.5 billion.
Though the JN Foundation-National Health Fund-financed study is being conducted based on figures collected two years ago, Dr Elizabeth Ward, chairperson of the VPA, said she believed that barring adjustments for inflation, the cost would be the same today.
"The numbers won't change that much because our costs are fixed costs. So we would just adjust it for the inflation rate," Ward told The Sunday Gleaner following a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Thursday at the company's North Street, Kingston, offices.
The VPA is currently calculating the cost of treatment to accident victims for the remaining seven months with the full findings of the study slated to be released by the middle of this year.
Ward, however, said initial figures are showing that more than one per cent of the country's gross domestic product was expended on treating road-accident victims.
"We can prevent up to 80 per cent of our injuries, and we know how to do that," Ward said. "So this money could be saved and used on other services and improving the quality of the services in the hospitals."
Ward cited one case where a 24-year-old male was not wearing a helmet and was hit off his motorcycle.
"His hospital treatment cost $5.6 million, of which $4 million was for 30 days spent in the intensive care unit. Then there was the indirect cost estimated at $11 million, as he is not going to be able to work for the rest of his life and he has a family. And this was calculated at him getting a minimum wage, and this guy was way past minimum wage."
According to Dr Lucien Jones, chairman of the National Road Safety Council, with 1.2 billion people dying per year worldwide as a result of road accidents, road fatalities have become an international priority.
"What is driving the international community is that they are seeing road fatality as a developmental issue," Jones said.
"What the international community has estimated is that we can lose between two and three per cent of the GDP year after year if we don't drive down the fatalities."
He added: "So when we are talking about 0.5 per cent or one per cent growth and the quest for prosperity ... you have to deal with the consequences of road (accidents)."
The waiting time for other patients who visit hospitals for treatment is also being seriously affected by road-accident victims, according to Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, director of emergency medical services in the Ministry of Health.
"Sometimes what turns out to be a minor trauma and you come in and you are bleeding, somebody has to stop to assess you," she said.
"So it really impacts on our waiting times as well in our emergency departments, and that is a cost that everybody sees and complains about."
Bisasor-McKenzie added: "From the accident-and-emergency departments, we definitely over the years are seeing more patients that are coming in that are victims of motor vehicle accidents."
Bisasor-McKenzie further revealed that, from 2012 to 2014, hospitals in the western region of the island went from receiving 3,888 road-accident victims to 4,003.
"The number of persons that present with injuries from motor vehicle accidents are about two per cent of the overall emergency department visits," Bisasor-McKenzie said.
"This represents about 14,000 persons on average per year. If we have 19 per cent of those persons being admitted, then we would realise that for motor vehicle accidents the kind of injuries that those persons are going to be admitted for are going to be serious injuries. So those are long stayers in the hospitals."