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Gulf War Syndrome

Volume 403: debated on Monday 14 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the research his Department has conducted into the possible causes of Gulf War syndrome. [107144]

[holding answer 11 April 2003]: Findings from two major independent epidemiological studies funded by the Ministry of Defence into Gulf veterans' illnesses following the 1990–91 Gulf conflict have been published. The results from a study of mortality were published in "The Lancet" on 1 July 2000. The researchers found that the number of deaths and the causes of death in the comparison group comprising of those who did not deploy to the Gulf were similar to those for Gulf veterans. There was however a small non-significant excess of non-disease related deaths among Gulf veterans, particularly due to accidents.Results from an epidemiological study of ill health were published in the May 2001 edition of "Occupational and Environmental Medicine". The researchers found that Gulf veterans reported symptoms with a greater severity than those who were not deployed to the Gulf although the overall severity of symptoms was not high. There was no evidence of any illness unique to Gulf veterans. In terms of symptom severity, the various symptoms reported were ranked in generally the same order by both groups. The researchers found no evidence of a "Gulf War Syndrome". Weak associations between particular self-reported exposures (handling pesticides, vaccinations and exposure to oil well fire smoke) and particular types of ill health were found although no indication was given of a link between "handling pesticides" and actual contact with the pesticides. In another study, clinical tests on a number of Gulf veterans who had significant neuromuscular symptoms were carried out. A paper reporting results from the study was published in "Neurology" on 26 November 2002. The paper reports that the researchers found no neurophysiological evidence for a specific neuromuscular disorder that could be linked to deployment to the Gulf. In addition, interim results have been published from the Ministry of Defence's Vaccines Interactions Research Programme. On 1 April 2003,

Official Report, column 55WS, I announced that preliminary results from the current phase of the study using marmosets are available and were presented by means of a scientific poster. These preliminary results indicated no apparent adverse health consequences three months following the administration of vaccine and/or pyridostigmine bromide (the active chemical in Nerve Agent Pre-treatment Sets tablets) to marmosets.

The findings from other studies are yet to be published. Full details of all the Gulf veterans' illnesses related research studies being funded by the Ministry of Defence are available on the Internet at: www.mod.uk. issuesigulfwar/research htm.

A considerable amount of research into Gulf veterans' illnesses has been undertaken in the United States and the United States Department of Defence have also funded research in the UK. There is scientific evidence that some veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict report a large number of multi-system, multi-organ, non-specific, medically unexplained symptoms as well as recognised medical conditions. However, the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical community is that the re is insufficient evidence to enable this ill-health to be characterised as a unique illness, condition or 'syndrome'.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department is taking to publicise the symptoms associated with Gulf War syndrome. [108807]

None. The Ministry of Defence accepts that some veterans or the 1990–91 Gulf Conflict have become ill and that many believe this ill health is related to their Gulf experience. A large number of multi-system, multi-organ, non-specific, medically unexplained symptoms have been reported by some Gulf veterans as well as recognised medical conditions. However, the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical community is that there is insufficient evidence to enable this ill-health to be characterised as a unique illness, condition or "syndrome". The MOD's approach must be guided by the scientific and medical community and therefore does not recognise "Gulf War Syndrome" as a medical condition.Gulf veterans who are concerned about their health should contact the MOD's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit on Freephone: 0800 169 4495.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the Government-funded SCOPE study, published in The Lancet on 2 March; whether he will amend his policy for treating and compensating Gulf War illness victims; and if he will announce arrangements for assessing the conditions of any UK troops similarly affected in the current hostilities in Iraq. [108940]

I assume the hon. Member is referring to a letter published in The Lancet on 2 March 2002 entitled: "Paraoxanse (PON 1) polymorphisms in farmers attributing ill health to sheep dip." The letter reports outputs from a Government funded study and suggests that organophosphate pesticides contribute to the reported ill health of some people who dip sheep. The final report from the study referred to in the letter is not yet available. When it is, we will consider carefully all of the study's findings and implications in consultation with inter-departmental colleagues and expert advisers. Medical treatment for service personnel is the responsibility of the Defence Medical Service and for those who have left the armed forces, the NHS. I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 4 April 2003, Official Report, column 881W, to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) regarding compensation. We are considering arrangements for assessing the health of United Kingdom service personnel involved in military operations in Iraq. I expect to make an announcement shortly.