Frank McDermott AM FRACS
30 September 1931 - 28 February 2020
Professor Frank McDermott had a long and distinguished surgical career. But it was his academic research approach providing a strong evidence base for his advocacy in road trauma prevention that proved the greatest benefit to the lives of Victorians, and those further afield. An early pioneer of road safety, he led the way towards much ground-breaking and often world first, road trauma prevention legislation. These include mandatory seat belt wearing, drink driving countermeasures and helmets for cyclists. Thousands of lives have been saved as a result of these road safety initiatives.
Professor McDermott was a member of the RACS Road Trauma Committee, which was part of an advocacy campaign in the 1960s promoting mandatory seat belt wearing. It was an emotive time and Frank recalled the vigorous attack by the media in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. A commercial television network agreed to the Road Trauma Committee’s suggestion that police heroes of television dramas wear seat belts.
Significantly, in 1970 Victoria became first jurisdiction in Australia and the world, to introduce compulsory seat belt wearing legislation.
In 1974 blood alcohol tests on all Victorian road crash casualties over 15 years of age became compulsory. This provided a critical window of opportunity for data collection which was used to guide policy making. Frank was involved in the analysis of blood alcohol test results from almost 43,000 road crash casualties which found that 50% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had an illegal blood alcohol concentration. This led to the conclusion that alcohol was “the most important single contributing cause of serious road crashes and fatalities in Australia”.
In 1991 Ian McVey, then Chair of the TAC’s Medical Advisory Panel and Director of the Alfred Hospital’s TAC funded Trauma Centre, arranged for Frank McDermott and Stephen Cordner (Director of the recently established Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine) to get together. With Frank’s research experience and skills leading the way, and based on autopsy results, research to evaluate the management of trauma care in Victoria was devised. The outcome, relying on a multi-disciplinary investigation, was a method to establish whether the deaths could have been prevented if the retrieval, emergency, surgical and related care had been optimal. The Consultative Committee on Road Traffic Fatalities (CCRTF), co-chaired by Frank and Stephen Cordner, was set up the next year with funding from the Transport Accident Commission of $250,000 per annum. Its aims were to identify organisational and clinical errors in the management of medically treated road trauma fatalities; and to use this information to improve Victoria’s trauma care system.
In his early career Frank McDermott was actively involved in surgical research in the Monash University Department of Surgery at the Alfred which gave him fantastic grounding for establishing, running and advocating the findings of the CCRTF. According to Stephen Cordner, the academic leader in the CCRTF was Professor McDermott. Frank, in conversation, would often gratefully recall his mentor, Sir Edward Hughes, who instilled in him the need for academic inquiry into surgical practice. The CCRTF arguably became the most comprehensive preventable death audit ever undertaken and found that of the deaths on Victorian roads occurring after the arrival of the emergency services, one third were preventable (or potentially preventable). This resulted in a new trauma care system for Victoria. Dedicated trauma centres were set up at three major city hospitals and staffed by specialist trauma teams. The CCRTF researched the issues, defined the problems, advocated for the solution, and measured the improved consequences of the changes. The CCRTF reports became seminal documents in international trauma care, providing a benchmark for preventable death panels and informing the World Health Organisation, International Surgical Society and the International Association for Trauma Surgery and Intensive Care about quality improvement in trauma management.
As chair of the RACS Victorian Road Trauma Committee Frank McDermott led a strong and relentless advocacy campaign for mandatory bicycle helmets in Victoria. Mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was passed in Victoria in 1990 - another ‘world first’. Frank was justifiably proud of his involvement with the bicycle helmet road safety initiative as he saw on Melbourne streets an increasing number of cyclists wearing a helmet.
As a College we are proud of Frank’s achievements which have led to a safer environment for all road users in Australia, New Zealand and many other parts of the world. This reflects well on our Fellowship and commitment to improving the welfare of our communities in Australia and New Zealand. The College, and the community, are indebted to Frank for his perseverance and lifetime commitment to research.
Educated St Kevin’s College, University of Melbourne
Fellow Royal College of Surgeons England 1960
Fellow Royal Australasian College of Surgeons 1964
Fellow American College of Surgeons 1984
Awarded Hunterian Professorship by Royal College of Surgeons of England 1978 and 1993
Awarded AM for services to the community, particularly in accident prevention and treatment of road trauma victims 1994
Honorary membership of the American Association of Surgery for Trauma 2000
Awarded RACS medal 2001
Member RACS Trauma Committee 1995 – 2001
Member Victorian Trauma Committee 1993 – 1997
Chair Victorian Road Trauma Committee 1982 – 1996 (member since 1973)
Deputy Chair Road Trauma Advisory Committee 1982 – 2001
Co-Chair Consultative Committee on Road Traffic Fatalities 1992 - 2002
Gregory, Alan, Blood Belts Booze and Bikes A history of the response of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to the epidemic of road trauma, RACS 2008
Peter Bragge and Russell Gruen, From Roadside to Recovery The Story of The Victorian State Trauma System Monash University Publishing 2018