The tragic death of 14-year-old schools rugby player, Benjamin Robinson, in Carrickfergus, has highlighted the need for a serious look at how head injuries are treated.
The inquest of the schoolboy, who died in January 2011, was held recently in Belfast and the findings led to calls for strict guidelines as to how such injuries are dealt with.
This inquest comes shortly after the controversy during the Lions tour when Australia’s George Smith was brought back on despite obviously being groggy after a clash of heads with Lions’ hooker Richard Hibbard early in the match.
Many experts believe that the five minute monitoring period is too short and puts players at risk.
Speaking after the inquest in which Benjamin was confirmed to be the victim of “second impact syndrome”, sports practitioner Dr John Chute said players required further safeguarding.
“In my view there should be a rule where the player who is concussed must be removed from the field of play for good,” he said.
“It’s a common view with pitchside doctors and neurologists: it does have long-term effects. The duty of care of the doctor is to the player and not to the team.”
Dr Chute, who is medic for both the Irish Under-21 soccer team and Tralee Rugby Club, said the issue is particularly relevant to teenagers.
“I am not surprised that there has been a death from second concussion syndrome; I am not one bit surprised in the current climate. We are likely to see more fatalities if a lot of sports continue as they are”, stated Dr Chute.
At a professional level, the IRFU recently introduced a five-minute duration during which a concussed player must be monitored before being given the go-ahead to return to the field, but there have been calls from some quarters to increase this to ten minutes.
The issue hit the headlines during the summer Lions tour when former International Rugby Board medical advisor Dr Barry O’Driscoll repeated his call for rugby to completely change the way it deals with serious head injuries.
O’Driscoll, a former Ireland international player and uncle of current Ireland international Brian, held various positions related to medicine, anti-doping and discipline with the International Rugby Board over a period of 15 years.
But he cut all ties with the body a year ago, in part because of his opposition to the introduction of the “five-minute rule”. The rule means players can return to the field of play after a serious head injury if they pass a short assessment on the sideline.
It was reported by RTE Sport that O’Driscoll contacted IRB CEO Brett Gosper to repeat his call for the IRB to change their approach.
In that e-mail he wrote: “My views on suspected concussion in rugby are well known and documented within the IRB. They were the reason for my resignation. The five-minute assessment of a player who has demonstrated distinct signs of concussion for 60 to 90 seconds and usually longer, is totally discredited.
“There is no scientific, medical or rugby basis for the safety of this process. This experiment, which is employed by no other sport in the world, is returning the player to what is an extremely brutal arena.”