Building on the extensive measures put in place to protect the health of our personnel deployed to the Gulf, the Ministry of Defence has decided to conduct research into the physical and psychological health of those who have been involved in the conflict. It is too soon to know whether health concerns will emerge., but we are of course conscious of the range of physical and psychological health concerns reported by veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. If health concerns arise out of the current operations, we will want to identify and investigate them as soon as possible.We therefore propose to put in place the following measures once the units currently deployed have returned from theatre, as I promised in my answer to the Member for North Cornwall (Mr Tyler) of 14 April 2003 (
Official Report, column 570W).
As soon as possible after personnel have returned from post-operational leave, researchers will hold face-to-face interviews with up to 50 individuals. This will produce qualitative data on any emerging concerns. This work will be carried out by King's College London.
Once personnel have returned to duty and resumed their normal lives, researchers will issue questionnaires to a large representative cohort of those who were deployed seeking data on health status and exposures. As well as regular and reservist Service personnel and MOD civilians, other groups who deployed with them such as representatives of voluntary aid societies, contractors' personnel and embedded journalists will be invited to form part of the cohort. The same questionnaire will be distributed to a cohort of those who did not deploy, to provide a comparison, or control, group. This, work will also be carried out by King's. We propose to set up an oversight board to monitor the work chaired by an independent scientist with members drawn from MOD and outside bodies. The research will be published in the peer reviewed scientific literature.
This will be a longitudinal study. Having identified the members of the cohorts we will aim to keep in touch with them wherever possible, so as to be able to carry out further surveys in future and monitor any changes.
Depending on the outcome of this work, clinical investigations within the cohorts will be carried out as necessary to provide objective assessments of self-reported ill health. This work too will be carried out by King's.
All regular and reservist Service personnel and MOD civilians who deployed and have concerns about their health, will be able to attend a Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) run by MOD at St Thomas's Hospital, on referral by their doctor. The MAP will not provide treatment; it will assess patients and recommend treatment as appropriate. This facility will be made available to attached voluntary aid society personnel, contractors and embedded journalists on a repayment basis.
All regular and reservist Service personnel and MOD civilians who deployed are already entitled to receive a urine test for uranium if they are concerned. Those who have received high exposures are positively encouraged to do so and in addition to have an isotope test for depleted uranium. Voluntary aid society and contractors' personnel and embedded journalists will be able to receive the test on a repayment basis. To provide a baseline for comparison, we will be asking the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh to carry out a study to establish normative values in a military population who did not deploy. (This exercise is separate from the test currently being devised for veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict, where any concentrations will be much lower 12 years on and very much harder to detect).
We currently monitor the mortality of veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict compared with a control group and publish figures every six months. The same will be carried out for those who have taken part in the current operation.
Detailed arrangements are now being made and will be announced when they are available.