Up to 3,000 lives could be saved each year under plans to treat the most seriously injured accident victims in regional centres for major trauma, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) says today.

By concentrating expertise in 20 to 25 major trauma centres spread across England, death rates following severe injury could be cut by 40 per cent, the college says. Ambulances carrying the most seriously injured victims would be ordered to travel past the nearest accident-and-emergency unit to a regional centre where they would receive expert assessment and surgery. Research shows that the length of the journey is less important for these patients than getting the best care when they arrive.

Between 4,500 and 8,000 people die in accidents each year and the toll is rising. Trauma is the leading cause of death among children and young adults up to the age of 44 and death rates have not improved in 15 years.

Four major trauma centres have been designated for London – King's College Hospital, St George's, St Mary's and the Royal London – which are set to go live from next April. Further centres are to be identified across England over the next two to three years.

In a report published today, the RCS sets out guidelines for health authorities on what the major centres will require, and how the most seriously injured will be identified and referred.