HC Deb 30 January 1996 vol 270 cc607-8W
Dr. David Clark

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will instigate an epidemiological study into alleged Gulf war syndrome. [12122]

Mr. Soames

[holding answer 29 January 1996]: My Department has been conducting a continuing and detailed investigation into the health aspects of service in the Gulf. The medical assessment programme, under which more than 350 individual veterans have been examined, was endorsed by the Royal College of Physicians in a clinical audit last July.

The royal college recommended that we contact leading civilian specialists in specific areas of medicine relevant to conditions alleged to have been caused by Gulf service. Separate discussions have since been held with eminent specialists in toxicology, immunology, tropical diseases, epidemiology and birth defects, and a comprehensive medical statistical database has been prepared which will provide the basis for epidemiological studies.

As part of this continuing work, the Surgeon General convened a meeting last Thursday with the following leading medical and scientific experts: Professor A. Kay, Imperial college of science, technology and medicine (immunology); Professor L. Borysiewicz, university of Wales (immunology); Professor D. Warrell, John Radcliffe medical school, Oxford (tropical diseases); Professor A. McMichael, London school of hygiene and tropical medicine (epidemiology); Dr. A. Proudfoot, director, Scottish poisons information bureau (toxicology); Professor Sir C. Berry, Royal London hospital (birth defects); and Professor P. Blain, Newcastle upon Tyne medical school (environmental and occupational medicine).

Having reviewed the work undertaken to date, the experts fully approved the basis of our approach. They also agreed that there is no evidence at present to indicate the existence of a unique and previously unknown condition or illness associated with service in the Gulf, and noted that this echoed the US experience of its much larger assessment programme of 17,000 veterans.

We accept that a number of Gulf veterans are ill, and that there is public concern about the possible effects of Gulf service on the children of veterans who have been born with birth defects. As the next stage of its work, my Department will commission a series of epidemiological studies comparing the health of Gulf veterans with similarly matched control groups of service personnel who did not go to the Gulf. The aim of these studies, some of which will be conducted in-house and some by commissioning external research, will be to establish whether there is any increased prevalence of illness among Gulf veterans or of birth defects among their children.

We will also commission research into the alleged causes of Gulf-related illness, including the possibility of interaction between the vaccinations received by service personnel and the nerve agent pretirement sets—NAPS—taken for protection against the very real threat of chemical attack. We shall of course work very closely with the US, but will not duplicate its efforts.

The cost of the research will be met by my Department. The Medical Research Council has been invited to oversee and review the conduct of the programme, and the results will be published.

We will continue to offer assessment and counselling services under the medical assessment programme, and wish to encourage any serving or ex-service personnel who may be concerned about their health as a result of Gulf service to come forward to the solicitors acting for those who are ill asking them to urge their clients to participate in the programme.

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