Research by the government’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) shows that using blood products to treat severely injured patients before they reach hospital improves chances of survival.
New research involving a medical evacuation response team helicopter in Afghanistan – and carried out by Ministry of Defence (MoD) scientists at the Dstl, with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine – has demonstrated the need for emergency first aid responders to carry blood products, says the Dstl.
In 2008, the medical evacuation response team (MERT) in Afghanistan started carrying blood products to injured personnel on the frontline, using newly-developed refrigeration units on Chinook helicopters.
This emergency care procedure – together with other measures – has been credited with saving a number of lives in Afghanistan.
The researchers say the study has provided the first evidence that the use of blood products (red blood cells and plasma) to treat severely injured patients before they reach hospital significantly improves their chances of survival.
Principal Scientist at Dstl, Dr Emrys Kirkman, said:
“Badly injured people often lose the ability to form a blood clot properly, just when they need it most.
“Our research provides the scientific foundation for the premise that giving blood products before seriously injured patients reach hospital could help save lives, as it improves the ability to form blood clots.
“While this represents emerging practice based on clinical common sense, nobody knew whether it actually helped – this is the first study to prove the benefits.
“We hope that this research will encourage decision makers to think again about the possibilities for both military and civilian first responders to carry blood products.”
The Medical Director of the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance Trust, Dr Malcolm Russell MBE – who is also an ex-military doctor and former Senior Lecturer in Military Pre-hospital Emergency Medicine – added:
“Clinical experience from military operations over the last 10 to15 years has suggested that administering blood products to patients who have suffered substantial blood loss due to major trauma ought to be helpful in reducing shock and improving survival.
“Two years ago, Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance took the decision to carry packed red blood cells on our helicopters, in our quest to improve the outcome for our civilian major trauma patients.
“Earlier this year, we were the first UK air ambulance to carry freeze-dried plasma, as well as packed red blood cells – and we carefully balance the use of these products as we resuscitate our major trauma patients.
“We feel that the administration of blood products has been really helpful for major trauma patients, though proving that is very difficult in practice. Consequently, we were lacking the objective evidence that is essential to consolidate the clinical practice and bring it into wider use.
“We therefore welcome this excellent piece of research, which now provides exactly that evidence we’ve been looking for – and which supports our clinical intuition, judgement and subjective evaluation of clinical evidence.
“This combined evidence now makes the case that giving blood products to this patient group gives real benefit to them – and is therefore a practice that should be continued and developed further.”
The research is published in the journal SHOCK.
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