The cost of traumatic brain injury to the UK

By Blackwater Law

The costs of Traumatic Brain Injury to the UK as a whole are not as well understood as its immediate consequences, in part due to difficulties in quantifying human emotional cost, and also because of how brain injuries affect some victims more severely than others.

Nonetheless figures from a wider European study commissioned by the European Brain Council and summarised in Olesen et al. (2012) can be extracted to give some basic estimates of financial cost in the UK.

Traumatic brain injuries cost £5.1billion

Focusing on figures collated for a single year (2010) and accounting for both contemporary cases of traumatic brain injury and historical ones with lasting health implications for the victim(s), the study gives an insight into the annual costs of providing health and social care, plus economic output losses as a result of long term disability (but not premature mortality) of victims. When extrapolated from the wider European figure and converted from euros into pounds, the total annual cost was calculated to be in the region of £5.1 billion, allocated to 452,000 cases of traumatic brain injury. Of these cases, 145,000 were deemed “incident” cases occurring in 2010, with the remaining 307,000 having occurred at some point over the previous 20 years with lasting disability costs qualifying them as “prevalent” cases. Costs were calculated on the basis on the number of people admitted to hospital for treatment of a traumatic brain injury.

On an individual basis, this breaks down to an approximate cost of around £11,340 per year, per case. It was not possible to breakdown exactly how these costs were divided specifically for the UK, however in the broader European context around 31% of the costs related directly to healthcare, with care costs (including informal care) measured at around 10%, and economic output losses at 59%.

Relying too much on these average figures is reductive however, as the study’s authors note. “Incident” cases are likely to incur a far higher cost allocation in regards to healthcare for an immediate incident than “prevalent” cases, whose health costs are spread more evenly across a number of years. On the other hand, it’s also true that “prevalent” cases are comprised of more moderate to severe brain injury cases, as these are the ones more likely to incur lasting costs over a period of several years, whilst “incident” cases include costs for mild injuries that in time may no longer be a source of significant expense.

Costs of brain injury in UK may be lower than other countries

Detailed, up-to-date studies from other developed countries are hard to come by, so it’s difficult to assess just how the costs of traumatic brain injury in the UK compare, especially if population size inconsistencies are to be taken into account. Nonetheless, estimates from the Centre for Mental Health’s economic analysis; released July 2016, indicate that annual costs of traumatic brain injury in relation to national gross domestic product (GDP) stand at around 0.815% for the US, 0.351% for Australia and 0.328% for the UK.

Some studies however prefer to estimate costs based not on incidence rates recorded in terms of hospital in-patients, but on prevalence rates amongst the general population, which would shift the number of UK cases per year from 452,000 up to around 1.3million. When this approach is adopted, aggregate brain injury costs relative to UK GDP rise to 0.934%, with conservative estimates indicating this would amount to around £15million per year, again with the lion’s share allocated to a loss of economic output from victims.

Figures don’t provide for human cost of brain injury

Whichever approach is taken, incident of traumatic brain injury cost the UK economy billions of pounds every year, and this does not account for losses in terms of quality of life or bereavement to the individuals, families and friends involved, which should surely rank highly in any appraisal of their impact on the nation as a whole.