Inquiry into Gulf War illnesses -
London, July - September 2004
6. The medical profession
[My husband] would not discuss it with me and his GP would not discuss things with me. At the time when [my husband] became increasingly violent he was trying to get some help for him, and I contacted his own GP and the only answer I ever got was "I cannot discuss it with you. Patient confidentiality". Louisa Graham, a veteran's widow, 19 July 2004.
When I asked Dr Gabriel how many patients he had had through with kidney defects, he said, "We do not keep statistics" and I had quite an argument with him because I suggested that his job was to keep statistics. He then threw back the Data Protection Act at me and said "I cannot keep statistics because I am not allowed to". Adrian Willson, RAF, 19 July 2004.
Like the majority of doctors, I knew next to nothing about this at that time. I think that is something to be noted; that most doctors in this country know very, very little, if anything, about Gulf War Syndrome, and I think that is a major problem… One of my distinct impressions is, both having seen my general practitioner and my neurologist, is that they are very busy people. They do not want yet another illness to foul their day. Dr Nigel Humphrey Graveston, Chair of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, 33 Field Hospital RAMC at Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia. Consultant anaesthetist in the army, 19 July 2004.
We did go to the Gulf War veterans’ illnesses at St Thomas’s. They were very polite and very concerned about Trevor’s state of health at the time – this was in 1999 – but when we walked in and we sat in the first office with the sister in charge, she said, “you do understand this has got nothing to do with the Gulf War?” That was her first statement; that was before he had seen the doctor. Mrs Calvert, wife of a metereologist in the RAF, now affected by dementia, 19 July 2004.
After a visit to my GP I was referred to a dermatological consultant with regard to my rash. I had read in the newspaper about other Gulf War veterans coming down with similar symptoms, so I decided to show the consultant the newspaper cutting and ask his opinion. The response I received was that of complete dismissal and contempt for the report, a situation that I have had to deal with on many occasions since that day. The rash was diagnosed as Pityriasis versicolor and I suffer that to this day. After witnessing the reaction of the consultant, it was some time before I visited my GP with my troubles again, and, when I finally did so, I made no mention of Gulf War syndrome…
The way in way patient details are communicated using utmost brevity between practitioners in no way allows for a complete picture to be drawn. This has been the case regarding my series of illnesses. Each consultant will identify conditions with which they can associate. However, mention Gulf War Syndrome, and the effect is almost palpable. Their eyes appear to glaze over and their tone of voice changes and a dismissive approach is taken… After visiting my doctor and explaining how I was feeling I was asked: “Do you think you might be suffering from depression?” I answered that I thought I was and he did nothing. Realising the gravity of my situation, my wife and my father had to intercede on my behalf and contacted my GP. I am now signed off work sick with depression. Michael Roy Lingard, RAF, 21 July 2004.
I have worked with doctors for 24 years so I know what most of them are like ‑ good, bad and indifferent ‑ but when you go to your GP and she says “I do not know what to do with you, Mr Davey”. She should not have done that in the first place. If she did not know what to do with me, she should have kept it to herself and passed me on to another person who might be able to help. You go to a neurologist because there is a chance you might have MS and he goes, “Mr Davey, do not make too much of your symptoms”. Gerard Davey, RAF, 21 July 2004.
One of the things that I found very distressing, both in the farmers, the 800 farmers who are on our database of Organophosphate Information Network, and the 5,000 suffers from Gulf War Illness, is that they went from doctor to doctor, sometimes ending up with a psychiatrist who did not understand what had happened to them, did not understand the toxicology and began to conclude that this was mental stress more than anything... It was very interesting that the British Medical Association wrote a report in 1992 called Pesticides, Chemicals and Health, in which they did a survey of medical schools in Britain asking what toxicological training they gave to their young doctors, and the answers were, some of them did none, the majority between one and 12 hours – 12 was quite exceptional – which in a modern society, where we are subjected to chemicals all the time did not seem to the BMA, or indeed to me, to be enough…
This is from the University of East Anglia Medical School: “Clearly organophosphates are an important source of problem at present, but one can concede that good sense will prevail and the organophosphates will disappear from use in due course. The information the students have on OPs will therefore become redundant”. That has not happened yet. He goes on to say: “We therefore attempt to teach the students principles of recognising when there is a problem which they do not understand, and tracking down reliable information on it rapidly and efficiently. I am therefore comforted by the thought that doctors contact your organisation for up-to-date information. I would regard this as a minimum best practice.” That is very flattering to us in one sense, but I still find it rather alarming that everyone from birth to the grave is subjected to high levels of chemical exposure in our society, and so one understand there is not time to educate doctors in everything, but certainly there should have been more education of doctors who were going to be looking at people exposed. Elizabeth Sigmund, since 1967 and for some years secretary of the Working Party on Chemical and Biological Weapons 28, July 2004.