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The recent decision not to sanction Northampton Saints over their treatment of George North’s latest head injury has many calling for the protocols to be re-examined.
On 3rd December 2016 George North fell in a mid-air tackle. He was taken off the field to undergo a head injury assessment as per the protocol and was returned to the field of play.
The report states that head injury assessment protocol was followed correctly although the Saints medical team have accepted that North may have lost consciousness.
The report states that the Concussion Management Review Group’s view is that there was sufficient evidence to conclude not only from video evidence but also from George North’s history and risk stratification that he should not have returned to the field of play.
This begs the question, if they concluded that North shouldn’t have been returned to the field but that the Head injury Assessment Protocol was followed then is there something lacking in the Protocol?
Dr Barry O’Driscoll, ex Ireland international and uncle of Brian O’Driscoll, has called the system ‘not fit for purpose’. He lambasted the protocols as terribly poor and dangerous ‘they’re putting brain-damaged players back on the field time and time again.’
He goes onto say that there is no such thing as protocols outside of the men’s professional game, as they don’t work. In women’s, community and school rugby if a player has to come off then they stay off.
The protocol says that players with confirmed or suspected concussion will be permanently removed from the match. Dr O’Driscoll points out that the words are being played with and in turn so are player’s brains. He says if a player has come off for a head injury assessment then by its very nature the medics have suspected a concussion, otherwise they wouldn’t be performing the assessment. Therefore a player should not be returned to the field.
Peter McCabe chief executive of brain injury association Headway said that serious questions have to be asked of the existing protocols and that this incident sends out a confusing message around the issue of concussion, particularly for children who follow the examples of famous players and clubs.
Without sanctions being made against Saints it seems an opportunity has been missed for the professional rugby world to show that they are serious about concussion and the welfare of their players. It seems that it may take a more serious incident to trigger a fresh look at protocols. The problem with concussion is that we now know, from the discovery of CTE, that you do not know how serious an incidence of concussion is and its long term effects until well after the fact. Therefore just because a player can and wants to get back on the field after a knock to the head, it does not mean that he should. 13 minutes to decide whether the player can return to the match will never be long enough to understand the extent of a concussion and therefore in every instance the side of caution should be erred on.
Click here to read the full report.
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