05 Nov 04. Michael Evans of the Times reported that the UK MoD admitted for the first time yesterday the mistakes it had made in preparing thousands of British troops for a feared chemical and biological war in the Gulf in 1991.
Thirteen years after the Gulf War, the MoD published a report, Health and Personnel-Related Lessons Identified, which outlined numerous policies which had to be changed and implemented for the latest war in Iraq. However, defence officials remained adamant that there was still no evidence of a Gulf War Syndrome.
The report was published in advance of the conclusions of an independent inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome, conducted by Lord Lloyd of Berwick. His report, which is expected to be critical of the MoD’s treatment of the 6,000 Gulf War veterans suffering from ill health, is due in the next two weeks.
The MoD acknowledged that it had not been open about its anti-biological warfare vaccination programme which included giving many of the frontline troops a cocktail of injections to counter anthrax, plague and other bio-chemical attacks.
The report said: “The fact that the MoD was not open about the UK’s anti-biological warfare immunisation, did not provide sufficient information to forces about the vaccinations they were receiving, did not explain the reasons for offering them, or provide information on the assessments of safety of the vaccines, sideeffects and so forth, has led to uncertainty, suspicion and doubt.”
Gulf War veterans, suffering from illnesses ranging from cancers and motor neurone disease to chronic fatigue, skin rashes, traumatic stress and aching joints, have blamed the multiple vaccines for causing the health problems. However, the defence officials said the interim findings of an important study into the “medical counter-measures” given to service personnel in 1990 and 1991 showed there had been “no apparent adverse health consequences”. The final report by the research team is due to be published in a medical journal by the end of the year.
The MoD also admitted yesterday it had failed to point out the potential hazards presented by the firing of shells by American and British forces which had depleted uranium (DU) warheads. Information about DU “was not always fully disseminated nor was information on the simple precautions which could have been taken to minimise these risks”.
The MoD said all these lessons had been taken into account for Operation Telic, the current campaign in Iraq. Commanders now had to ensure all their soldiers were regularly immunised against the usual health risks.
Outlining the results of the MoD’s Gulf veterans’ medical assessment programme which started in 1993, the report said that of the 3,244 seen so far, 75per cent were well. Of the 25per cent unwell, 83per cent of ill-health was accounted for by psychiatric illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to Tony Flint of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, the only reason the MoD refused to acknowledge the existence of a Gulf War Syndrome was “because they don’t want to pay out money”.