A LIFE-SAVING network of hospital trauma centres promised by the SNP government has been delayed for at least three years, Nicola Sturgeon admitted yesterday.

The First Minister blamed the “scale and complexity” of the project, which was supposed to save 40 lives and help 6000 of the most seriously injured patients each year.

The four sites, in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, were first promised in April 2014 and were meant to have been operational by the end of last year.

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However on a visit to one of the proposed major trauma centres, Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Ms Sturgeon confirmed they would not all be operational until 2020 at the earliest.

She also announced an extra £5m of funding to speed up work on the scheme.

Labour warned the delay could lead to add to the pressure on staff and patient care and called for Health Secretary Shona Robison to make an emergency statement to Holyrood.

The major trauma centres (MTCs) are intended to receive patients with the most serious injuries, including those in car accidents, and people with multiple injuries and severe head injuries.

Based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Ninewells, they are intended to offer specialist treatment and rehabilitation care.

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“By ensuring patients have timely access to the highest level of expertise and medical facilities, this could save up to 40 lives each year,” said then Health Secretary Alex Neil in 2014.

However the original 18-month timescale was complicated by a review which suggested MTCs might be best concentrated in the central belt, leading to fears about a lack of cover in northern Scotland, and reassurances from the government about a four-centre plan.

But speaking to staff working on the Dundee MTC, Ms Sturgeon said: “We need to recognise that it is extremely important that we get the model right.

"Given the scale and complexity of the changes required to deliver the network, we should need to recognise it will take at least three years to fully implement it.

"We are allocating an extra £5m in 2017-18 to begin to accelerate these improvements and we will be putting further significant investment in as we continue to build and fully establish the network over the next few years."

Ms Robison added: "Across the whole of Scotland it is going to take at least three years.

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“We will see over the next one to two years Dundee and Aberdeen getting up and running. Edinburgh and Glasgow will take a little longer than that."

Trauma is the leading cause of death in people under 40.

Around 5000 people are seriously injured in Scotland each year, with around 1000 cases defined as “major trauma”, with an estimated 100 major trauma cases in children.

For every trauma fatality, there are two survivors with serious or permanent disability.

Although trauma accounts for less than 1 per cent of the 550,000 emergency admissions to hospitals in Scotland, it creates a disproportionate burden on the health system, as severely injured patients need highly specialised care, and extended hospital stays and rehabilitation.

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "Serious questions need to be asked about how this delay came about. The SNP said these bases would benefit around 6,000 of Scotland's seriously-injured patients each year.

"That means as many as 18,000 patients could miss out on this treatment and questions must now be answered about the impact on other areas of health service.

"SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison needs to make a statement to parliament as a matter of urgency on this and outline what impact this delay will have on staff pressure and patient care."

Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, also published a revised timetable for the trauma network.

Staff recruitment will take place by March this year, with a steering group set up by April, and the Health Secretary giving an update to parliament in October.

The network should then start going into operation by March 2018, although it will take longer to complete its roll out.

It would be a “bespoke Scottish solution” with 86 per cent of the population within 45 minutes of an MTC by road.