Three years ago, my life changed forever when I was hit by a 4x4 while walking home. The car lost control, smashing through metal railings protecting a central pedestrian reservation. I suffered horrific injuries including 22 rib fractures, a spinal cord injury and my lungs were burst.
But, I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I was rescued by the amazing, highly qualified London Air Ambulance Service, who arrived on the scene within just seven minutes. And, it's thanks to them that I'm still alive.
I'll never fully recover and will be a spinal injury patient for the rest of my life, but I live independently in a private flat. I cook. I do light shopping without help and, while I still need a wheelchair for long distances and full days out, I can walk to friends locally with just my crutches. Last Summer, I walked 5km in Regent's Park - wearing my back brace, and with the help of crutches - to raise money for the London Air Ambulance Service. But, it took me more than 2.5 hours to complete and 6 weeks to recover, so this won't become a regular thing!
But none of this would be possible without intensive rehabilitation. Immediately after the accident, I spent several months at the Royal London Hospital, and was later transferred to Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit. In the Summer of 2010, I was discharged into a new privately rented flat with wheelchair access, but still needed intensive physiotherapy and psychotherapy - and initially a live-in carer. Over three years on, I still have physio sessions three times a week, and work with a personal trainer to build my stamina and muscle strength.
But, as I say, I'm one of the lucky few. Over 13,000 people are severely injured in road crashes every year, requiring rehabilitation. But, according to research from personal injury law and rehabilitation specialists at Irwin Mitchell, and OHE Consulting, many face a postcode lottery due to insufficient funding and a lack of consistent, co-ordinated rehabilitation care across the country. In some areas in-hospital rehabilitation is good, but as soon as you are discharged, it dries up. In others, even the rehabilitation you get in the hospital is sporadic at best. In London, we have five rehab centres for a catchment area of over 7.8mn people, but in Manchester, for example, there's just one rehab centre catering for a catchment area of almost 3 million people. The research also shows that the UK has fewer rehab specialists per head than any other European country (bar Ireland). It's astonishing.
The rehabilitation I currently have is privately funded. I had just six sessions in the ten weeks following my accident, while in hospital, then they were cancelled to make room for 'new' patients. Was I not considered 'new' anymore, after less than three months? Fortunately, Irwin Mitchell was able to secure interim payments from the driver's insurance company, which pays for my rehabilitation as well as my wheelchair-accessible flat, and ad-hoc support from a personal assistant who helps with domestic chores, negotiating public transport and even things I used to take for granted, such as reaching something on a high shelf in a supermarket.
Money talks, and there just isn't enough to go round. Often, spinal injury patients don't have enough physiotherapy, and sessions can be run in groups with people with different levels of injury, so we're not getting the maximum benefit. One spinal injury patient I mentor has been refused any more NHS-funded physiotherapy as her consultant doesn't believe she'll walk again, but she has feeling in her legs and believes she can. Rehabilitation should be patient-led and we should be entitled to as many sessions as we feel we need while we're still showing improvements. But we're at the whim of an under-funded NHS system that is forced to make arbitrary decisions, which aren't always in our best interests.
But, I'm doing well. My condition has improved and while I still have bad days, as well as good, I'm looking to re-train and find some part-time work. I continue to campaign for London Air Ambulance, which most people don't realise is a charity. And, I've lobbied MPs for St George's Trauma Centre to have a helipad so patients can be treated more quickly. The rehabilitation I have received has given me the impetus to try and make a difference for others in my situation.