By Mark Nicol
Mail on Sunday – 30 December 2018
- Soldiers often suffer brain haemorrhages from explosions on the front line
- If untreated this damage can lead to mental health problems and even suicide
- Failure to scan for brain injuries could be reason for surge in suicides, says chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee
British combat troops should be given enhanced scans to detect unseen brain injuries which doctors say can cause dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder, an influential MP has demanded. Soldiers often suffer minor brain haemorrhages as a result of explosions on the front line which go undetected. If untreated, this damage to the brain can lead to serious mental health problems and even suicide.
Now, Julian Lewis, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, has suggested the failure to scan UK soldiers for brain injuries could be one of the reasons behind the surge in suicides among British veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is calling for the Ministry of Defence to provide specialist scans for combat troops, in particular those soldiers who were struck by enemy improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during these campaigns.
Remarkably, while US combat troops are routinely tested, there is no referral system for British squaddies. There are understood to be only two scanners in the UK capable of detecting mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs). As the Mail on Sunday has revealed, British troops who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq are killing themselves at a faster rate than their comrades died on the battlefield - one every 13 days in 2018 compared to one death every 14 days in these war zones.
Last night, Mr Lewis said:
'A failure to diagnose TBIs at an early stage puts blast survivors at significant risk of long-term suffering and even suicide. We should be diagnosing this much sooner.
'It should be a matter of the highest priority that, if people have been subjected to IEDs in the service of their country, a screening programme should be in place to assess them properly and promptly.'
High-powered scanners called Tesla 7s are required to identify these changes in mental behaviour which, if untreated, can cause dementia and PTSD. The UK's only Tesla 7 scanners are based at Aston and Nottingham universities where the first medical tests for brain damage among UK veterans are due to take place next year.
Last night, psychotherapist Mandy Bostwick, who is involved in the research, suggested there may be thousands of cases of undiagnosed brain damage among British veterans. She said:
'Roadside bombs were the signature weapon of the enemies of British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those responsible at the MoD for failing to develop a referral pathway to brain scans need to be held to account.'
Last night, the MoD said:
'The health of those who serve our country is of the utmost importance, which is why we strive to give them the very best care.'