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Head injury: Audit of a clinical guideline to justify head CT


  • NB Haydon MBBS (UNSW), MSc (Oxon).
  • Conflict of interest: None identified.


Dr Nicholas B Haydon, St Vincent's Hospital, 390 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia.




Head injury causes significant morbidity and mortality, and there is contention about which patients to scan. The UK National Health Service Clinical Guideline (CG) 56 provides criteria for selecting patients with clinically important brain injury who may benefit from a head CT scan, while minimising the radiation and economic burden of scanning patients without significant injury. This study aims to audit the documentation of the use of these guidelines in a busy UK trauma hospital and discusses the comparison with an Australian (New South Wales (NSW) ) head injury guideline.


A retrospective cohort study of 480 patients presenting with head injury to the emergency department over 2 months was performed. The patient notes were assessed for documentation of each aspect of the clinical guidelines. Criteria were established to assess the utilisation of the CG 56. A database of clinical data was amalgamated with the head CT scan results for each patient.


For the UK CG 56, 73% of the criteria were documented, with the least documented being ‘signs of basal skull fracture’ and ‘amnesia of events’. Thirty-two per cent of patients received head CT and of these, 24% (37 patients) were reported to have pathology. Twenty-four patients underwent head CT without clinical justification being documented, none of which had reported pathology on CT.


The study shows that the head injury guidelines are not being fully utilised at a major UK trauma hospital, resulting in 5% of patients being exposed to ionising radiation without apparent documented clinical justification. The NSW guideline has distinct differences to the CG 56, with a more complex algorithm and an absence of specific time frames for head CT completion. The results suggest a need for further education and awareness of head injury clinical guidelines.