What's it like to be on a spinal board?

Paediatrician Damian Roland’s NHS Change Day 2014 pledge was to spend an hour lying on a spinal board, in a collar and block, to experience what his patients go through.

Spinal boards are used when patients have experienced a serious trauma which may have caused a back injury or possible fracture.

It’s an uncomfortable way to be transported to hospital and when one takes into account the journey and waiting in the Emergency Department for things such as X-rays, it can last quite a long time. That experience is bad enough for an adult but it can be quite frightening for a child. The question that Damian asked himself was: do we need to change our practice?

He decided to test this out in a very personal way – by lying on a spinal board for an hour at a recent conference. He wanted to conduct the experiment in a public arena in order to draw as much attention as possible to the issue, he explained.

“Change Day is about engaging others and I wanted to get people interested in my pledge even before I’d put it into action. The very visual nature of what I was doing got people talking – about me and about Change Day.”

He was immediately aware once on the spinal board of having a very different perspective of the world around him, which was quite unsettling, he said. When he was then moved around the conference hall on the board he started to feel seasick. “I just felt really sick and spent five minutes afterwards trying to compose myself.”

The experience has already led to changes in practice at Leicester Royal Infirmary when dealing with children admitted on spinal boards. Staff work hard to reassure the patient while avoiding leaning in too close, which might be frightening for the child. They also look out for signs of sickness or discomfort.

Most importantly, says Damian, they try to get them off the board as soon as it is safe to do so. As he points out, patients will not be at risk as long as they are lying flat.

The whole experience has taught him a lot – not only about spinal boards but also about the importance of engaging staff in the learning experience. “The actual process of telling stories in this way is a really good way of getting people involved.”

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