The State Government has committed $1.5 million over three years to establish a world-class program in neurotrauma research in Western Australia.
Details of the funding program were announced today by Transport Minister Eric Charlton and Health Minister Kevin Prince following a recommendation to Cabinet by the Ministerial Council on Road Safety.
Speaking at the Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital at Shenton Park, Mr Charlton said reducing the impact of road crashes on those injured was a vital component of the State's road safety plan.
He said the funding commitment was recognition by the Government that Western Australia was recognised as a world leader at the cutting edge of neurotrauma research.
"Road crashes resulting in damage to the brain and spinal cord create devastating long-term losses of personal freedom and quality of life for hundreds of Western Australians each year," Mr Charlton said.
"The cost of road trauma in WA is over $1 billion per year and concentrating on prevention alone will not produce the greatest savings and benefits to the community.
"By minimising the long-term impact of neurotrauma through improved early management of injuries we can reduce personal tragedy and costs to the community.
"The Road Safety Council has developed a three-year plan aimed at reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries from road crashes by 33 per cent by the year 2001.
"If we achieve this goal - and we are well on the way to doing so - the savings in lost productivity and medical, insurance and legal costs are estimated to exceed $600 million."
Health Minister Kevin Prince said he was confident that the State Government's commitment would lead to matching funding from other established international, national and local medical research sources and the private sector. A total investment of $2.5 million a year was required.
Mr Prince said the Neurotrauma Research Program would be part of a global effort to prevent nerve damage and achieve central nervous system regeneration and repair.
"Neuroscientists from Western Australian universities and teaching hospitals will work together under the auspices of the Joint Council of Medical Institutes of Western Australia," he said.
"In addition, they will collaborate with key international neurotrauma centres including the Christopher Reeve Foundation in the US and the International Spinal Research Trust in London."
Mr Prince said over 1,100 people were admitted to hospital in 1995 with neurotrauma-related injuries from road crashes. They represented 23 per cent of all road crash admissions.
In the past four years, the costs of neurotrauma admissions had risen by 54 per cent, compared with 28 per cent for all road crash admissions.
"On average, 50 Western Australians are left permanently paralysed each year and 58 per cent of these injuries are the result of road crashes," Mr Prince said.
"Approximately 600 people sustain serious head injuries each year of which 60 per cent are road trauma related.
"The great tragedy is that these injuries occur mainly to young people."
Mr Prince said the major objectives of the neurotrauma research program were:
· prevention and reduction of nerve damage in the first few hours after injury;
· improved after-crash care, particularly for country road users who comprised two-thirds of major head and spinal injury cases;
· discovery of methods to repair and regenerate central nervous system tissue; and -
· reducing the economic cost of road trauma.
The Ministers said the State Government's commitment beyond the first three years was subject to annual reporting against milestones agreed with the Joint Council of Medical Institutes of WA.
Media contacts: Doug Cunningham (08) 9321 7333 and Kirsten Stoney (08) 9221 1377.