The HSE is counting the cost of the Big Freeze with a large number of hospitals reporting increases of up to 70 per cent in the number of people presenting with fractures recently.
There were 223 orthopaedic trauma admissions to University Hospital Galway from December 14 to January 4. This compared to 131 for about the same period last year. While Portiuncula Hospital does not deal with fractures - these are referred to Galway or Tullamore hospitals depending on the patient’s address - 67 patients attended the Ballinasloe hospital’s emergency department from January 2 to 7 with injuries to their hands, fingers, elbows, ankles, knees and wrists caused by falls and road traffic accidents.
As the thaw continues the health authority is urging people to continue to be cautious because some paths and roads are still slippy.
“Despite a thaw in some parts of the country risks to the public from slips and falls on icy footpaths are likely to continue in the days ahead,” says a spokesperson. “The elderly and vulnerable remain at risk of isolation and we are reminding people to drop in on elderly neighbours to ensure that they had adequate food, heating and prescription medicines.
“The public should remember that elderly people are particularly prone to hypothermia and pneumonia and while temperatures are due to rise slightly in the days ahead health and safety risks, particularly to the elderly and vulnerable, are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.”
HSE services including emergency departments, ambulance service, primary care centres and GP services, experienced an upsurge in the number of people presenting with sprains, fractures and cuts as a result of slips and falls on icy roads and footpaths, according to the spokesperson.
“Despite the challenges faced by community based health services in some areas, services were provided by the HSE with the support of staff and other agencies. Hospitals across the country reported a significant upsurge in the numbers of cases of fractures during this spell of severe weather. Emergency medicine consultants are reporting that a high percentage of these fractures were complex, requiring surgery. The minimum increases in the number of people presenting with fractures in the last week were in the order of 30 per cent with a large number of hospitals experiencing a year-on-year increase for the period of 70 per cent or more.”
Hospital consultant Dr John Ryan says people should be aware that while roads may be clear, some paths and isolated areas may be treacherous.
“If you do fall and are injured it’s really important that you do not delay in seeking medical attention at the nearest emergency department. The injuries to people who fall on ice are high velocity in their nature and as such there would be a likelihood of breaking a limb which, if left untreated, could result in life long affects so urgent medical attention is of paramount importance.”
Richard Brennan of the Alexander Technique Centre in Galway, says the reason many people have problems walking on ice is because the human body has one of the most “unstable designs on the planet”.
“We consist of 206 bones, all of irregular shapes and sizes, and we have a huge weight of the head sitting on top. The average weight is nearly 14lbs (six kilos ) which is about the same as about seven bags of sugar! The whole structure is delicately balanced by over 650 muscles which are triggered by a complex series of reflexes. Even when we are standing still on dry ground our body is performing a miraculous balancing act. These reflexes in our body organise this extremely unstable structure of our bones, muscles and organs in an upright posture without any conscious thought on our part.
“When we have the ice or snow to contend with our balance and co-ordination becomes even more important and many of the falls we have during bad weather can be partly due, or even be caused by, poor co-ordination and balance. There is also an added problem as many people unconsciously tense their muscles even more because they are afraid of falling and it is often that extra tension that pulls them off balance. When people tend to fall, it is often backwards which can be really dangerous because of the potential injury to the spine or skull.”
He says the Alexander Technique is an effective way of improving balance and posture by learning to relax certain muscles and keeping joints flexible.
“Then, even if you do slip your body is far less likely to be severely injured. Children tense their muscles far less than adults and as a result a fall on ice rarely results in injury, in fact they often enjoy the instability of the ice because they have a more natural way of balance.”
He offers the following tips to prevent injury while walking on slippy areas:-
* Do not stand up straight as you will be more likely to fall
* Bend your knees and hips slightly so that your muscles are more relaxed
* Do not rush. Take more time than usual
* If the road is very slippy do not lift your feet off the ground …just slide along
* Allow your head to go slightly forward rather than back. A fall backwards can be far more dangerous
* Be alert so you are aware of very icy places.
Richard Brennan will give a free workshop today (Thursday ) at 11.30am at the Alexander Technique Training Centre near the city for people interested in learning how to avoid falling by using simple techniques. Telephone (091 ) 555800 or log onto www.alexander.ie for further information.