New data reveals the number of people injured or diagnosed with a spinal cord injury (SCI) is approximately double that previously estimated.

•    4,400 people are injured or diagnosed with a spinal cord injury every year, not 2,500 as previously thought.
•    Leading spinal cord injury charities call for urgent increase in support for people living with the injury.

A new data analysis was conducted by Andrew Coxon, National Spinal Cord Injury Database (NSCID) Manager at the NHS, Abigail Lock, CEO at Back Up and Shajia Shahid, Clinical Research Network Manager at Spinal Research with the support of charities; Aspire, Spinal Injuries Association, Spinal Injuries Scotland, Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research, Wings For Life, Regain, Horatio’s Garden, Cauda Equina Spinal Cord Injury, Cauda Equina Champions Charity and Wheelpower.

The analysis indicates that there are an estimated 4,400 new cases of spinal cord injuries per year in the UK.  This equates to someone becoming paralysed every two hours. As a result, the estimated prevalence of spinal cord injuries in the UK has risen to 105,000.

The analysis was derived from multiple NHS data sources, including National Spinal Cord Injury Database and the UK Rehabilitation Outcomes Collaborative (UK ROC) covering admissions and referrals.

Previous estimates stated that there was a total of 50,000 people living with a spinal cord injury, with 2,500 new cases each year. These new estimates, however, indicate a considerable increase across both figures.

While improved data collection and further analysis are necessary, it is speculated that a significant portion of the increase can be attributed to the broader inclusion of both traumatic (stemming from physical trauma) and non-traumatic (e.g., cord compression, tumours, inflammation, and infections) injuries.

Spinal cord injury can be caused by an accident, an illness or a health condition. They affect not just your mobility and sensation, but also the functioning of your bladder, bowel, skin, breathing and sexual function. 

These statistics have profound implications for design and delivery of services to people living with a spinal cord injury including:

  • Acute, rehabilitation, and community health services
  • Adult Care
  • Continuing Health Care
  • Wheelchair Services
  • Non-governmental agencies engaged in transport, housing and the workplace
  • Charities and the third sector

The charities are calling on all government departments to ensure that every person with spinal cord injury has the care and support they need and deserve to lead a fulfilled and independent life.

Nik Hartley OBE, chief executive of Spinal Injuries Association said: “The revelation that there are double the number of people across the UK who are sustaining a spinal cord injury each year is stark, but no surprise to the charities that support people across the UK.  People with a spinal cord injury and their families too often face stretched or inappropriate health and support services, barriers to accessing carers, transport and housing and a lack of awareness about this life-long condition. The NHS and wider government must dramatically increase vital specialist health care and support to the 4,400 people each year who are having to come to terms with a life of paralysis from spinal cord injury. We will not stop campaigning until that change in investment happens.”

Abigail Lock, chief executive of Back Up said: “Spinal cord injury can happen to anybody at any time.  When it does your whole life changes in an instant.  A positive future is possible but it’s imperative that anyone sustaining a spinal cord injury and their families receive the right support. Back Up bought the sectors charities together in coalition to shine a light on this issue and get a better understanding of the scale of the challenge. It is shocking that almost 80% of people with spinal cord injury are not getting to NHS specialist spinal cord injury centres. This needs to change.”

Brian Carlin, chief executive of Aspire said: “We are pleased to have supported this research as it highlights how many more people than previously thought are affected by Spinal Cord Injury and therefore the increasing importance of the charities in this sector. We join with the other spinal injury charities in their call for the changes that need to happen.  In the meantime, we will continue to help the 105,000 people living with a spinal cord injury in the UK to live independently.”

Louisa McGinn, chief executive of Spinal Research said: “We are proud to have contributed to this collaborative process. It is vital that health and social care systems have the capacity to deliver care and support to our community. This also emphasises the importance of investing in research and development to drive even better outcomes in future.”

How we help