HL Deb 16 March 1998 vol 587 cc456-7

2.54 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

What funds have been allocated to which research institutions for clinical research into Gulf war illnesses by the Gulf War Illness Panel of the Medical Research Council.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, none of the Medical Research Council's own funds has been allocated by it for research into Gulf veterans' illnesses. However, in line with the council's recommendations, the MoD is funding two epidemiological studies to investigate the health of Gulf veterans and their families. In addition, I am pleased to announce that the MoD intends shortly to place with King's College, London a contract for a programme of neurophysiological tests on randomly selected Gulf veterans who have been identified through the US-funded epidemiological study which is being carried out under Professor Wessely. This decision has been taken in consultation with the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and the Medical Research Council.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, is he aware that epidemiological studies are not clinical studies? If the King's College study is to be the only such study, I must advise him that other aspects of the Gulf veterans' illnesses need to be looked into. Is the Minister aware that the chairman of the Gulf War Illness Panel of the Medical Research Council is also the head of academic medicine at King's College Hospital; that the research which the noble Lord has just mentioned was never put out to tender or advertised; and that there was no competition? Is he also aware that, when the original advertisements relating to Gulf war illness research were put out nearly two years ago, anyone who had put in a protocol for clinical research was rejected without any reason being given by the Medical Research Council? Can the Minister say when those people will be told why their applications were rejected and why the current research has not been put out to tender?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, the noble Countess has asked me a great many questions and I shall do my best to answer. Yes, I am aware that there is a difference between clinical research and epidemiological research. We do not rule out the possibility of further clinical tests being carried out on other groups in due course. As to the process by which the contract was awarded, I shall be happy to look into the points raised by the noble Countess.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, this is an immensely complicated pie, if that is not too mixed a metaphor, and many people have fingers in it. Have the Government appointed an individual to co-ordinate all the work and, if not, will they do so?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, the work is being co-ordinated under the authority of my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the House will be aware that a very large amount of money is being spent by the Americans on researching Gulf war syndrome. Can the Minister advise the House whether any of that research will take into account the experiences of the British and the French armed forces in the theatre of the Iraq conflict?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The United States is in a position to devote far more resources to this subject than we are. I can assure my noble friend that there is a full and continuing exchange between our two governments on the results that we come up with. Unfortunately, so far the United States is no nearer a solution than we are. I am not aware of any significant research being carried out on this subject in France.