Tan Tock Seng Hospital to boost its trauma centre

The number of full-fledged trauma surgeons will go up from four to seven

When a person shows up at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) emergency department with life-threatening injuries, he goes straight to its "trauma centre".

There, many people work on saving the patient. For instance, a trauma surgeon operates to repair damaged tissues, a radiologist helps to spot and stem excessive bleeding, and an emergency physician stabilises the person.

Up to 54 health-care staff will be involved in the care of a severely ill patient within the first hour of his arrival at the hospital.

This system, in place at the hospital for 10 years, has helped to cut death rates by more than half, recent data show.

The number of deaths fell from 13.6 per cent in 2005 to 5.9 per cent last year.

Encouraged by these numbers, the trauma centre will now ramp up training, said the head of TTSH's surgical high dependency unit, Dr Teo Li Tserng.

This is crucial as the hospital has seen a higher number of trauma cases, and more serious injuries, over the last few years.

Currently, TTSH handles more than one-third of trauma patients in Singapore. This ranges from people with toe fractures to traffic accident victims.

Between 2011 and last year, the number of such patients jumped by 30 per cent to reach 39,000.

"When a person arrives at hospital alive, the quality of care will determine if he lives," said Dr Teo, who is also a consultant with the trauma service.

Up to three junior doctors will be trained in the next two years to join as full-fledged trauma surgeons at the centre, in addition to the current four surgeons.

Courses on trauma care have also been extended to all nurses and paramedics since last year. More than 30 of them have attended the programmes.

The hospital is also looking into adapting best practices from overseas trauma centres to improve outcomes for injured patients.

Recently, the hospital has been treating more high-speed traffic accident victims and those involved in workplace mishaps, observed Dr Teo.

One of them is construction site supervisor Tan Chin Thiam.

Last August, the 52-year-old tumbled down a flight of stairs in a private residential property and landed on top of a 1m-high metal gate.

A sharp spike on the gate pierced his abdomen and tore into his stomach, diaphragm and lung.

"In a burst of strength, I yanked myself off the fence, so that I could be carried to the living room to lie down," said Mr Tan in Mandarin.

At TTSH, he was rushed to the trauma centre, where doctors treated his wound immediately, fixing damaged tissues and cleaning out the infection, he said.

"I was transferred to a normal ward a few hours later. It was very quick," said Mr Tan, who recovered after a one-month stay at the hospital.

Today, he has only an 18-cm scar to remind him of the incident.

Before the centre started in 2003, emergency department doctors would attend to all patients, and after that call the relevant surgeons for help if needed.

Today, services to care for trauma patients are also in place at other hospitals, but not necessarily in the form of a centre.

Singapore General Hospital, for example, has a trauma team that can be activated when required.