National protocols to be developed around head injury risks in British sport

Government action plan lays out steps to improve understanding, awareness, prevention and treatment of concussion in sport.
Photo by Andrew Pescod

Sports in Britain that carry a risk of concussion will be working with the government to build a set of protocols to reduce risks associated with head injuries.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport intends to develop the new protocols in partnership with medical experts and sports governing bodies.

A concussion research forum will also be formed to address knowledge gaps, and the government intends to bring together tech companies to find new solutions to reduce both the effects of concussion in sport and instances of it happening.

It is all part of an action plan released by the government that lays out the steps that will be taken to improve understanding, awareness, prevention and treatment of concussion in sport at all levels.

The plan is in response to a July report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which examined the links between sport and long-term brain injury. It explored scientific evidence of links between head trauma and dementia, and how risks could be reduced.

The committee concluded that urgent action is needed by the British Government and sporting bodies to address a long-term failure to reduce the risks of brain injury in sport.

Participation in sport and physical activity provides significant mental health and wellbeing benefits for people including reducing their risk of developing dementia in later life. Being active has been shown to help prevent or lower the risk of health conditions like stroke, heart disease, cancer and depression and can help reduce pressure on the public health system in the longer term.

However, in recent years there has been an increased focus on the negative health impacts from brain injury and concussion sustained while playing sport. This is through advances in training, coaching, equipment and technology which have resulted in stronger, faster, better-trained players across all sports and at all levels.

To reduce the risk, the government intends to work with sporting bodies, player associations and schools to commission a single set of shared protocols around concussion, building on the work already done both domestically and internationally.

The protocols will seek to include nationwide agreement on issues such as how to recognise signs of head injury on and off the field, rules around removal from play and immediate actions to be taken in the event of head injuries.

They will require sports governing bodies to work closely with player associations on training protocols to improve players’ long-term welfare.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said sport brings many physical and mental health benefits to our lives.

“However, player safety must be absolutely paramount. Working with the sports industry it is right that we do all we can to ensure that people are as protected as possible and the risk of head injuries is minimised.

“That’s why we’re taking steps to reduce this risk and developing new, gold-standard industry protocols and focusing on emerging tech that can help build a fuller picture of the risks involved.”

The government’s independent concussion adviser, Laurence Geller, said everyone recognised the importance of sport in people’s lives.

“Whether professional or amateur, whatever age or skill level, we want to enjoy our sports whilst being protected from the potentially life-changing impacts of head injuries; I therefore warmly welcome the work Government is doing to prevent and treat concussion in sport.

“By making the game safer, we make the game better for everyone. But it’s not about changing the rules: It’s about working with experts from the medical profession, science and technology to devise protocols, knowledge, and equipment to allow us all to continue playing the sports we love.”

He said the work will capitalise on the momentum already building to tackle what he described as an important national issue.

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