• Bagnall AM, Jones L, Richardson G, Duffy S and Riemsma R (2003). Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of acute hospital-based spinal cord injuries services: systematic review. Health Technol Assess 7:iii, 1-92. Summary: OBJECTIVES: To examine four key areas: (1) the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of spinal fixation surgery, (2) the consequences of immediate versus delayed referral to a spinal injuries unit (SIU), (3) the number of people with a new spinal cord injury (SCI) who are discharged from hospital without ever being transferred to an SIU, and (4) the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of steroids for people with SCI. DATA SOURCES: Searches were carried out on several databases and also on the Internet. Specialist SCI and spinal injury related websites were searched, specifically the Spinal Injuries Association, the British Association of Spinal Cord Injury Specialists and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. REVIEW METHODS: Three separate search strategies were devised to find studies relating to the four key areas. Two reviewers independently screened all study citations for inclusion. The lists of all retrieved studies were scanned for additional studies. Quality of studies was assessed and data were extracted by one reviewer then checked by the second. Data from included studies were summarised within each key area. For dichotomous data, relative risks were calculated with 95% confidence intervals. Pooled relative risks were calculated as appropriate. For continuous data, mean differences with 95% confidence intervals were calculated and, if data were pooled, weighted mean differences were calculated. Searches were carried out to identify economic evaluations, details of these together with a critical appraisal of quality are presented in structured tables. Quality was assessed using a checklist supplemented with additional comments on the adequacy of methodology where appropriate. RESULTS: For spinal fixation versus no fixation, 68 retrospective observational studies were found that suggested some benefits of fixation surgery. Only four studies were found on fixation surgery in SIUs compared with non-SIU hospitals and no significant differences were seen. All 28 studies concerning delayed referral to a SIU were retrospective observational studies. In most, study details were poorly reported and there was doubt over the comparability of groups at baseline and on confounding factors. Times of referral and transfer were not reported separately. Evidence suggested an effect in favour of the SIU group for neurological improvement. No relevant published studies of any design were found regarding how many people with a new SCI are discharged from hospital without ever being transferred to an SIU. Two systematic reviews were found that assessed the effectiveness of steroids. No studies were identified that considered both costs and the impact on patient outcomes of a given intervention. CONCLUSIONS: Although there was evidence to suggest some benefits of fixation surgery and also a benefit of immediate referral to SIUs compared with delayed or no referral, owing to the limitations of the data these should be interpreted with caution. Not enough data were found to assess whether surgery is more beneficial when carried out in SIUs and further research is required in this area. Well-designed prospective observational studies with appropriately matched controls are needed. High-dose methylprednisolone steroid therapy may be effective in promoting some degree of neurological recovery if given within 8 hours of injury. There is a need for more randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of pharmacological therapy for acute SCI. No published studies of any design were found to answer the question of how many people with acute SCI are discharged from hospital without ever being transferred to an SIU. Primary research involving audit of selected hospital records should be commissioned and published. The search strategy did not identify any full economic evaluations. Future research should include full economic evaluations, possibly alongside a large RCT, which fully consider the costs and consequences of implementing interventions. NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, UK.