§ The Countess of Mar
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether the symptom data for members of HM Armed Forces who served in Operation Granby recorded by the medical assessment programme and the War Pensions Agency are recorded in such a way as to enable clusters of illnesses to be detected; and, if not, whether they would consider the feasibility and value of conducting such an exercise. [HL1329]
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
Accurate diagnosis is key to the detection of clusters of illness. A diagnosis is made on the basis of eliciting and interpreting symptoms and physical signs and analysing investigation results. It is regarded as best medical practice to record these findings. The Gulf Veteran's Medical Assessment Programme (GVMAP), which is for serving and ex-service Gulf veterans and certain civilians, records all these data in case notes. The data were analysed and the GVMAP published its clinical findings in 1996 and 1999. These findings are broadly comparable with the published findings of similar large US clinical programmes which assess the health of Gulf veterans. Not only have these programmes144WA shown that there is a lack of a unique illness affecting Gulf veterans but the resultant case mix has not, so far as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is aware, drawn any comment that it is unusual.
However, it is important to note that GVMAP patients are self-selected and their health experience may not represent that of those who deployed to the Gulf. Therefore, its clinical findings cannot be used to determine prevalence of illness among the whole Gulf veteran population.
War pensions can be claimed only once service personnel leave the Armed Forces and are awarded for service-related disablement or death, not in respect of symptoms. The War Pensions Agency (WPA) does not have readily available data on symptoms alone but can provide data on medical conditions as reported by those who have claimed a war pension. It is possible that Gulf veterans may be ill as a consequence of their service in the Gulf but have not claimed a war pension. For these reasons, and limitations imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998, comparison of data sets on symptoms may not be overly informative. However, last year officials in the MoD's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit were tasked to explore with the WPA whether GVMAP and WPA data could be aggregated to provide a more complete view of the incidence of symptoms among Gulf veterans. This work is ongoing. I will write to the noble Countess when I am in a position to do so and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.