MoD's Gulf syndrome tests 'can be improved'

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The Independent Online
Improvements to the Ministry of Defence's medical assessment of veterans claiming to suffer from the "Gulf war syndrome" were suggested by the Royal College of Physicians yesterday but most of the programme was declared adequate.

The Royal College was asked by the MoD to investigate its medical assessment programme following accusations from Gulf war veterans that the Ministry was engaged in a cover-up.

More than 600 servicemen and women are threatening to sue the MoD claiming that they have suffered from a variety of symptoms since being given a cocktail of injections and tablets to protect them against nerve gas and chemical attacks.

Symptoms have included fatigue, hair loss, rashes, sickness, diarrhoea, severe headaches, respiratory problems, skin disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The MoD, which has now assessed 299 veterans, says it has found no evidence of the existence of Gulf war syndrome and is refusing to pay compensation.

The clinical audit carried out by the Royal College looked at the methods used by the MoD's assessors at RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire, but did not involve examining patients.

The team from the Royal College concluded in its report published yesterday: "The Gulf War assessment programme addresses appropriately the medical needs of those veterans reporting illness and attending the clinic at RAF Wroughton."

It added that the clinical aim of the programme, to examine veterans and facilitate treatment, was being achieved and said that initial delays in assessment had now improved.

However, it called for more specialist advice from experts in immunology, toxicology and tropical diseases and the provision of more resources to study the pattern of the symptoms.

It also criticised the MoD's decision to limit psychological and psychiatric assessments to Gulf veterans still serving in the armed forces and said that generally initial checks are thorough but follow-ups for those no longer serving are uncertain.

The report concluded that the large number of diseases found among those claiming to suffer from Gulf war syndrome made it difficult to believe that a single cause was responsible.

The MoD welcomed yesterday's report and promised to implement most of the suggestions for improvements. The only exception was the proposal for psychiatric tests for those who have left the service, which it said should be carried out by the National Health Service.

Vice-Admiral Tony Revell, surgeon general of the armed forces, said: "The report is exactly what we expected and I am delighted to say that it does show that we are proceeding along the right lines.

"I have seen or heard nothing that will make me believe that there is a specific syndrome. But I have an open mind and we are now entering stage two, which is the research programme."

But Hilary Meredith, co-ordinator of the Gulf War Solicitors Action Group, claimed last night that the MoD was still covering up its decision to ignore medical advice against giving serving personnel in the Gulf the pills and injections. She added: "I am glad to see that the report indicates that there are issues worth investigating, something the Government has until now refused to admit."