AN AWARD-WINNING paramedic whose colleagues were killed in the Clutha helicopter crash will be at the forefront of a transformation in trauma care in Scotland which promises to cut deaths and disabling injuries.

Paul Swinton, who is originally from South Africa but now lives with his wife and family near Kilwinning in Ayrshire, is the first paramedic in Scotland to study for a prestigious Masters degree in Trauma Sciences from the Queen Mary University of London.

The 39-year-old father-of-two and the Scottish Ambulance Service's 'Staff Member of the Year' said his interest in trauma originated in his early career as a paramedic in South Africa, where the incidence of violent crime such as gun and knife crime and car crashes is much higher than the UK.

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Trauma covers injuries sustained in car crashes, falls, stabbings and shootings, as well as burns, crush injuries and assaults where a person has been punched and kicked so severely it damages internal organs.

It is the biggest killer among under-44s and, because it is most common among young people, is responsible for around twice as many life years lost as cancer or heart disease. For every trauma fatality, another three to four patients also survive with a serious or permanent disability.

The Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh estimates that 40 lives a year will be saved through the creation of a trauma network able to provide urgent and specialised care.

The four centres were originally scheduled to be operational by 2016 at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, and the new Queen Elizabeth hospital in Glasgow, but delays mean they remain in the planning stage.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told parliament last week that the centres will not be fully implemented until at least 2020. 

Read more: NHS stretched to breaking point, says British Medical Association chief

Mr Swinton, who treats the sickest and most seriously injured patients in Scotland as a paramedic at the 'ScotStar' airbase at Glasgow Airport, said the ambulance service would have a "pivotal" role, adding: "I want to use what I'm learning to help shape the future of trauma care in Scotland. We have to put it on the map. People don't realise it costs more life years than cancer."

Crucially, the longer the gap between traumatic injury and treatment, the worse the outcome.

"Say you have a cyclist whose been hit by a car and the impact was such that he's broken his helmet and he's got a head injury, the longer he doesn't get his airway protected or the oxygen within his body corrected, the higher the risk that that head injury worsens," said Mr Swinton. "So what you end up with is a secondary brain injury, which could have been prevented with the right care at the right time.

"This is really what we're trying to do."

Mr Swinton, who came to Glasgow in 2010 when his wife got a job as an obstetrician in the city, experienced first-hand the devastating consequences of a crash when a Police Scotland helicopter plunged through the roof of the Clutha bar in Glasgow in November 2013, killing the pilot and two police constables on board as well as seven customers inside the pub.

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"All of the people within that aircraft were my colleagues," said Mr Swinton. "I had been on day shift and I saw them all that evening while they were coming on shift. The Clutha incident was one of the big events in my career, both professionally and personally, that has had a big impact on me. It wasn't a nice moment at all."