Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
OHalloran2021_Article_TheImpactOfTheSARS-CoV-2Pandem.pdf (468.2 kB)

The impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on referral characteristics in a national tertiary spinal injuries unit

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-03-25, 14:57 authored by Louis O’Halloran, Daniel P. Ahern, Jake M. McDonnell, Gráinne M. Cunniffe, Michael K. Dodds, Frank Lyons, Noelle Cassidy, Marcus Timlin, Seamus Morris, Keith Synnott, Joseph S. Butler
Background: The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has had profound implications on healthcare institutions.
Aims: This study aims to assess and compare referral patterns during COVID-19 to corresponding dates for the preceding 3 years (2017-2019), in order to preemptively coordinate the logistics of the surgical unit for similar future experiences.
Methods: Retrospective review for our institution, a national tertiary referral centre for spine pathology. Two distinct time-points were chosen to represent the varied levels of social restriction during the current pandemic: (i) study period 1 (SP1) from 11 November 2020 to 08 June 2020 represents a national lockdown, and (ii) study period 2 (SP2) from 09 June 2020 to 09 September 2020 indicates an easing of restrictions. Both periods were compared to corresponding dates (CP1: 11 March-08 June and CP2 09 June-09 September) for the preceding 3 years (2017-2019). Data collected included age, gender, and mechanism of injury (MOI) for descriptive analyses. MOIs were categorised into disc disease, cyclist, road-traffic-accident (RTA), falls < 2 m, falls > 2 m, malignancy, sporting injuries, and miscellaneous.
Results: All MOI categories witnessed a reduction in referral numbers during SP1: disc disease (-29%), cyclist (-5%), RTAs (-66%), falls < 2 m (-39%), falls > 2 m (-17%), malignancy (-33%), sporting injuries (-100%), and miscellaneous (-58%). Four of 8 categories (RTAs, falls < 2 m, malignancy, miscellaneous) showed a trend towards return of pre-lockdown values during SP2. Two categories (disc disease, falls > 2 m) showed a further reduction (-34%, -27%) during SP2. One category (sporting injuries) portrayed a complete return to normal values during SP2 while a notable increase in cyclist-related referrals was witnessed (+ 63%) when compared with corresponding dates of previous years.
Conclusion: Spinal injury continues to occur across almost all categories, albeit at considerably reduced numbers. RTAs and falls remained the most common MOI. Awareness needs to be drawn to the reduction of malignancy-related referrals to dissuade people with such symptoms from avoiding presentation to hospital over periods of social restrictions.


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Published Citation

O'Halloran L, et al. The impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on referral characteristics in a national tertiary spinal injuries unit. Ir J Med Sci. 2021:1–6.

Publication Date

11 June 2021

PubMed ID



  • Undergraduate Research


Springer Nature


  • Published Version (Version of Record)