HAYES IN THE HOUSE: Acquired brain injury
Sometimes a brain injury is obvious - the sheer force with which soft tissue collides at speed with the hard inside of the skull bruises the brain, leading to a contusion or a haemorrhage that is outwardly invisible.
I know, because almost 40 years ago it happened to me.
Likewise, blunt trauma, where the brain is pulled away from the opposite side of the skull, whilst most often the tragic result of a road traffic accident or assault, can happen on the rugby, football, or hockey field, in the boxing ring or on the racecourse. Repeated incidents can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or what is often known as “punch drunk syndrome”.
Not all acquired brain injuries are immediately obvious. Those caused by stroke, tumours, infection, carbon monoxide exposure and oxygen starvation are hidden injuries with complex, fluctuating, life-changing effects that strike close to the heart of what it is to be human; to be conscious; to feel alive. Sharing these challenges with others who have faced them offers rewarding reassurance, of a kind offered by the Lincolnshire Brain Tumour Support Group, of which I am proud to be Patron.
The hidden nature of some brain injuries leads to stigma and misjudgement. It is all too easy to unknowingly disparage a nearby sufferer – confusing symptoms such as slurred speech or lack of concentration with drunkenness.
Statistics show the striking extent of the problem, with someone admitted to hospital with a head injury roughly every three minutes. ABI admissions have increased by 10 per cent since 2005-06 and, although men are 1.6 times more likely than women to be admitted for head injury, the number of head-injured women has increased by 24 per cent since 2005-06.
Our response must be swift and effective. Whilst our wonderful NHS is adept at providing emergency care and generally good in addressing disabilities that are fixed, it is a far tougher task to respond to the unpredictable, dynamic long lasting characteristics of ABI. Families need help to cope with changes to their loved ones physical capacity, psychology, cerebral function, as well as their personality – all of which can be disturbing and distressing.
Together we can make this difficult journey much easier by providing quality care from start to finish. That might be about additional resources to allow individuals to get back to work or return to education; It may be a matter of ensuring that teachers, employers and others are well equipped to understand what dynamic disabilities might mean and might lead to; and certainly the Government must appreciate that sufferer’s changing circumstances require a tailored response.
With all this in mind, I was delighted, as co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Acquired Brain Injury, with the publication of our detailed report: ‘Time for change’. That report concluded that raising awareness is vital and highlights the need for a joined-up approach across Government departments. Finally, it is pivotal that acquired brain injury is included in the special educational needs and disability code of practice as well as in the training and guidelines provided to schools, psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, prisoner and youth offending teams.
Headway, the charity which supports the brain-injured and their loved ones, does so much good. That’s why, as a patron, I have donated to this excellent organisation over the years since I became an MP.
Last week’s Commons debate on acquired brain injury, which I co-sponsored, was Parliament at its best: a bipartisan issue, debated calmly and collaboratively. I hope that our report’s thoughtful recommendations will be embraced by Government and Opposition alike.
Speaking in the Parliamentary debate I said:
"In the words of G. K. Chesterton, 'how you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win'.
"When, as a result of an acquired brain injury, someone loses cerebral function or the ability to mix and work with other people, or has some permanent disability, how long it is before they again see themselves as having a chance to win can be determined by what we do here, and on how the Government allocate their time, energy and resources to fight for, care for and campaign for people so affected."