Drive to reduce traumatic brain injuries

Released 20/10/2017

ACC is making a determined drive to reduce the incidence, severity and impact of traumatic brain injuries. 

“International evidence strongly suggests that traumatic brain injuries among the general population are significantly undercounted. Unfortunately, New Zealand is no exception,” says Peter Robinson, Chief Clinical Advisor at ACC. 

A study conducted by a research team led by Professor Valery Feigin at the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neuroscience at AUT estimated that over 36,000 new traumatic brain injuries occur each year, but most do not seek medical assistance or access support from ACC. ACC statistics indicate around 14,000 people have covered traumatic brain injury (TBI) claims each year, Dr Robinson said.

Read the brain injury study led by Professor Valery Feigin 

“That’s why ACC is making a very strong push to help reduce the incidence, severity, and impact of these types of injuries through our Traumatic Brain Injury Strategy and Action Plan for the next five years.

“Our strengthened strategy aims to create better awareness and recognition of symptoms of traumatic brain injuries and we hope by doing so, people will have greater awareness of the existence and risks that they pose, and will seek professional assistance. 

“What you must not ever do is ignore knocks to the head or serious blows to the body – of yourself, or of those that you love and care for. 

“It is critical we up the ante in making New Zealanders aware of the symptoms of injuries to the brain, including what may appear to be mild injuries. 

“When it comes to brain injuries, it is best to get professional advice, and it is vital we do a lot more to ensure everyone receives the services and the support that they may need, and are entitled to receive,” Dr Robinson said. 

Read the strategy and let us know what you think

Your feedback is critical to the success of this programme – please participate. Download the strategy, have a read, and email your feedback to:


Traumatic Brain Injury Strategy and Action Plan (2017 – 2021) 


Why do we need a TBI Strategy and Action Plan?

ACC statistics show that around 14,000 people each year have covered TBI claims – over half of all our serious injury claims. In 2014/15 TBI claims cost ACC $83.5 million. 

What do we hope to achieve?

ACC’s new strategy aims to create better awareness and recognition of TBI symptoms. We hope by doing so, people will have greater awareness of the existence and risks of TBIs, and seek assistance rather than ignore knocks to the head or serious blows to the body. We want people to avoid risk-taking behaviours that result in TBIs, and we want to ensure that people with TBIs, and their whānau, receive the services and support they need.    

What’s changed in the new strategy?

We’ve put greater emphasis on injury prevention; children, and mild TBIs in this strategy.  We’ve also taken a more integrated and holistic approach to preventing and reducing the impacts of TBIs by working in partnership with other government agencies to target improvements across the health and disability system.   

What will TBI clients see that’s different?

People with TBIs and their whānau should receive more culturally-appropriate services; have improved access to information and support, and greater input into rehabilitation and support services.  For people with a TBI, rehabilitation will start earlier, which should reduce the time they need to be in hospital.  Ultimately, people with a TBI should be able to return to work or the community sooner than is currently the case, through improved coordination and delivery of services.  

What’s the difference between a TBI, a head injury and a concussion?

A TBI is defined as an alteration in brain function caused by an external force. It can be caused by a blow, shake or jolt to the head or body or a penetrating injury that disrupts the function of the brain. A concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury, while ‘head injury’ is a general term that encompasses all types of damage to the head including cuts, lacerations and fractures. 

Who is affected by TBIs, and where are they happening?

Traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone, at any time. While there are some demographics that are statistically more likely to suffer a TBI – including males, Māori and people living in rural areas – they happen at all ages.  Like most accidents, the home is the most common place where TBIs occur.  Head injuries can be very severe in babies and frequent in young children. TBIs also occur from work, road accidents, sports, and from violence in the community or home. 

Do people who have a TBI ever get better and if so, how long does it take?

Every TBI is different.  We can have the same injury and be the same age and gender, yet our rehabilitation and recovery will be different.  Mild TBIs usually resolve within a period of a couple of weeks to several months.  People with more severe TBIs may continue to make improvements over time but may have a permanent disability. ACC provides ongoing support for people with severe injuries to help them be as independent as possible in their everyday lives.   

How do we know if we are making progress?

Recent New Zealand research has shown that TBIs, particularly mild TBIs, are often not reported. The TBI Strategy and Action Plan aims to increase the awareness and assessment of TBI, and one success would be that more TBIs are recognised.  The success of this strategy could therefore see total numbers rise initially, but we hope to reduce the severity and consequences of TBIs from improved prevention and treatment services. 

What about ACC’s sport concussion work?

Concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury and ACC is active in addressing sport concussion as part of its programmes on the SportSmart website. This TBI Strategy and Action Plan is taking a wider look at traumatic brain injuries that are caused outside of sporting activities.

ACC SportsSmart website

What is the The Blue Card?

In 2017, the Blue Card was rolled out which is collaboration between ACC and the New Zealand Rugby Union, as part of a long-term joint injury prevention programme. The Blue Card is used by referees who feel a player may have suffered a head injury, to ensure the player leaves the field for a medical assessment, and requires a clearance to resume playing.  This aligns with this TBI Strategy and Action Plan which seeks earlier identification, assessment and treatment of concussion to improve recovery and reduce risk of long-term harm.  

Who’s involved?

ACC will partner with specialist agencies across the state sector to achieve these goals over the next five years. Over 400 officials from across the Crown including Ministry of Justice, Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry for Vulnerable Children (Oranga Tamariki), New Zealand Police, ACC clients and their whānau, ACC providers of TBI services, consumer support groups and organisations, primary healthcare and DHBs. 

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