Freezing weather makes mission harder for emergency services

The rescue
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The Independent Online

Three helicopters and a fleet of ambulances ferried the injured to seven hospitals across Yorkshire when the NHS major accident procedure swung into action.

Three helicopters and a fleet of ambulances ferried the injured to seven hospitals across Yorkshire when the NHS major accident procedure swung into action.

At least 76 casualties were treated in accident and emergency departments and 34 were detained overnight. Hospitals cleared beds and cancelled operations to cope with the injured. The last survivor was eased from the crash site at 1pm, almost seven hours after the accident at 6.12am.

Most of the walking wounded were treated for cuts, bruises and abrasions. The seriously hurt had broken bones, spinal and pelvic injuries, concussion and head injuries. Some required immediate surgery.

Five patients with serious spinal and pelvic injuries were taken to hospitals in Leeds - two by helicopter to St James' Hospital and three transferred from Pontefract General Infirmary to Leeds General Infirmary.

Snow, sleet and freezing cold, in addition to the location of the crash site, added to the rescuers' problems. At Pontefract, 31 casualties were treated and 15 were admitted. At Pinderfields, 10 were treated and nine admitted. York district hospital, with the easiest access from the crash site, became the main receiving hospital with 24 casualties but only one was admitted, with a fracture. At Hull Royal Infirmary, seven were treated and four admitted, with spinal head and chest injuries. Some casualties were also treated at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

All NHS hospitals have a major accident procedure to deal with incidents involving large numbers of injured. Routine operations are cancelled, all available beds are cleared, operating theatres are put on hold and extra staff drafted in. A spokeswoman for six hospitals in the region said: "It seems to have worked very well. We had very good cooperation from the hospitals."

A makeshift casualty centre was set up at the scene of the accident to provide immediate help and transfer the injured to hospital. The spokeswoman said: "Great Heck is in the middle of nowhere ... But there were a lot of local GPs who turned out very quickly and were on site to help."

Mike Playforth, an accident and emergency consultant at Pontefract, said the first casualties had started arriving at 7.28am, three with lifethreatening injuries. All were in shock. He said: "They were not speaking about it ... as you can imagine when you're travelling on a train and this sort of thing happens it is just unbelievable."

Outside the accident and emergency department, Anna Homa, in her late 20s, who escaped with cuts and bruises, said she felt very lucky. "I can't remember much ... I was just reading the paper and suddenly there was all this noise."

At Hull Royal Infirmary, Jim Crawley, the assistant director, said two men and a woman were having surgery and a third man had been admitted for treatment. He said: "They included casualties with spinal, head and chest injuries and some also had broken bones."

North Yorkshire Ambulance Service said it had dealt with about 150 casualties. A fleet of 16 ambulances and three helicopters took them to hospitals in Pontefract, Hull, Doncaster and York.

A spokesman said the carnage had been appalling. He said: "Our crews had to carry patients about 100 yards across muddy fields to the field hospital where they could be picked up by ambulance."

An emergency number was issued for people who are worried about friends and relatives: 020 7834 7777.