I spoke earlier today in the debate on acquired brain injury, asking the Government to "look favourably on further measures to support those with acquired brain injury, their families and carers, and to ensure that the Departments of all Governments communicate with one another to make contact for these service users easier. Communication and form-filling may be extremely difficult for people with acquired brain injury, as their concentration levels are often depleted. Ease of application—a simple thing—would be a great step forward, with Departments sharing information, instead of individuals repeatedly filling in forms and going back to repeat the process several times".
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris).
I note and welcome the valuable work of the all-party parliamentary group on acquired brain injury, including its most recent report. I agree that Governments together need to lend their support and implement, where reasonably practicable and borne out by evidence, the measures that will bring about improved neuro-rehabilitation for those with acquired brain injury. About 1.4 million people in the UK are living with a brain injury. According to Headway Ayrshire and as has been mentioned, every 90 seconds someone in the UK is admitted to hospital with an acquired brain injury, and in 2016-17 some 1,816 people with a diagnosis related to acquired brain injury were admitted to hospital from the Ayrshire and Arran area within which my constituency lies. These are large figures and very worrying statistics.
It has been acknowledged that more persons are surviving trauma to the brain, which may occur after birth or because of disease, an accident, sport, military service or a criminal act. Let me stop for a moment on the question of accidents. Having spent 31 years in the fire service and attended numerous needless road accidents, I commend those who created, invented and install airbags—we have no measure of the number of brain injuries that they have prevented—and the Governments who introduced the compulsory wearing of seatbelts and of crash helmets. The number of people saved from accidents by that is wonderful. I will leave this hanging for a moment, but would it be possible and worth considering the compulsory wearing of safety helmets for cyclists? I am sure that that would reduce brain trauma injuries in the future.
Those people’s survival is to be welcomed, although regrettably some could have a degree of disability and might have a different persona, which can prove difficult for all to cope with. The individual and their families undoubtedly need an informed and readily available bespoke support package. The onus is on us to enable these individuals to regain their dignity, which they so richly deserve, and to have an active role in our society, which is their society as well.
To date, rehabilitation provision for in-patients and those returning to the community appears to have been sadly lacking, or, when it is provided, of varying standards and not always in line with those narrated by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NHS England’s best practice tariff and the all-important person-centred rehabilitation prescriptions. Those prescriptions are so important to that individual, their family and their carers.
I support the desire for a specialist acquired brain injury rehabilitation consultant who would guide, oversee and co-ordinate matters. Oversight and co-ordination appear not to be as good as they could be. That is not to detract from the excellent work of charities mentioned in the Chamber this afternoon, such as Headway Ayrshire, which is part of Headway, the brain injury association, raising public awareness and working to improve life after brain injury by providing simple things like information on where people go for help. When someone puts their hand out for help, someone has to grasp it, and in many ways Headway does that, providing advice and support to the person, their family and their carers. Having previously sat on that charity’s local board, I have seen for myself how it is able to benefit my constituents and many throughout the UK in other branches of Headway. I thank Headway—its staff, volunteers and those who raise money for it—and welcome the contribution and support it gives individuals.
In 2017, the Scottish Government’s community justice funding enabled Supporting Offenders with Learning Difficulties, also known as SOLD. SOLD was able to assist those with alcohol-related and acquired brain injuries out of the dreadful cycle of reoffending. The prison community often does not understand these issues.
Sir John Hayes
The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) made an incredibly important contribution—as my hon. Friend is doing—highlighting that many people become involved in alcohol, gambling or some other pursuit, which would never have happened had they not had their brain injury. The Government need to look at that aspect of the issue, because the consequences of brain injury can be as unpredictable as that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that welcome intervention. It is easy to identify someone with a physical injury—the leg in plaster or the arm in a sling—but an injury to the brain is not visible, and we need to be aware of that.
Scotland has seen the development of a brain injury e-learning resource, created under the umbrella of the Scottish Acquired Brain Injury Network, with funding and technical support provided by the national services division of the NHS. Glasgow University’s excellent Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering also undertakes work on the neuro-rehabilitation of hand and arm functions, neuropathic pain and the possibilities of retraining the central nervous system after spinal cord injury or a stroke. I should also mention a facility from which I benefited: the Douglas Grant rehabilitation centre, which is operated by NHS Ayrshire and Arran. The centre gives confidence back to people who have been subjected to brain injury or nervous system injury. It also gives them back their ability to find their own way in life, and great credit is due to the staff there.
As was mentioned earlier, the effect of sports injuries involving concussion is not quite fully understood, but it is better recognised, particularly in rugby, but such injuries can also happen in football. There has been great success in football of late. Dare I mention Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool? Perhaps clubs should invest some of their money protecting their valuable players—not for today or tomorrow, but for later in their life—from the consequences they may suffer. Football still has some way to go on that front.
We may still need to educate the educators to understand the hidden disabilities and lifelong consequences for young people with acquired brain injury. Medical science is leading to a better understanding of ways to address rehabilitation, and organisations are seeking to communicate what is available. However, it is vital that this work is co-ordinated, and that a holistic treatment plan and the functioning needs of acquired brain injury patients are considered and acted on promptly. This should not be delayed, waited for or pushed down the line; we have to respond timeously.
Some patients may reach a plateau, but for others sadly the condition may be progressive, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach for victims of acquired brain injury. We need to continue to build on the Government’s good work in achieving and maintaining specialist centres of excellence and enhanced community support services for persons with acquired brain injury, their families, and—let us not forget—their carers.
I ask the Minister to look favourably on further measures to support those with acquired brain injury, their families and carers, and to ensure that the Departments of all Governments communicate with one another to make contact for these service users easier. Communication and form-filling may be extremely difficult for people with acquired brain injury, as their concentration levels are often depleted. Ease of application—a simple thing—would be a great step forward, with Departments sharing information, instead of individuals repeatedly filling in forms and going back to repeat the process several times. It is, indeed, time for change.