Select Committee on Defence First Special Report


Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence concerning help for volunteers who participated in trials at Porton Down (21 November 2000)

  I am writing to inform you that today I will be announcing that the Ministry of Defence will be taking a number of steps designed to help those who participated as volunteers in trials at Porton Down.

  Suggestions have been made that some Porton Down Volunteers suffer unusual patterns of ill health because of their participation in trials. Although the Ministry of Defence has seen no scientific evidence to support that belief, we take such suggestions seriously. We are very grateful to all those whose participation in studies at Porton Down made possible the research to provide safe and effective protection for UK Armed Forces against chemical and biological weapons. Against this background, I believe we can do more to address former volunteers' concerns about their health. The steps I have announced are as follows. We are:

    —  offering volunteers the opportunity for a thorough medical assessment if they have concerns about their health. This will be along the lines of the Gulf Veterans Medical Assessment Programme and will use the same facilities at St Thomas' Hospital, London. The data from these consultations will be analysed to explore whether patterns of ill health are associated with particular exposures;

    —  seeking advice on an independent epidemiological study. We have approached the Medical Research Council already. Such a study may help establish whether or not former volunteers are suffering from excess mortality as compared to a matched group of service personnel who did not participate in trials at Porton Down;

    —  creating a multi-disciplinary policy focus within the Ministry of Defence which will be responsible for addressing volunteers' health concerns and liaising with other Government departments;

    —  approaching this issue with openness and a commitment to dialogue with Volunteers and their Representatives;

    —  making public any information which may be of assistance to former volunteers. The current arrangments for the Porton helpline will remain in being. All volunteers who approach it will be given full information by letter of their own trials, and offered the opportunity to examine the records for themselves at the site;

    —  continuing to fully co-operate with and provide assistance to the ongoing Wiltshire Police enquiry into trials at Porton Down.

  The policy focus for Porton Down volunteers issues will be provided by the Ministry of Defence's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit (GVIU) because its existing administrative, medical and statistical expertise is ideally suited to addressing similar questions in the case of Porton Down volunteers. The GVIU will be properly resourced to take on this important new responsibility and there will be no detriment to the ongoing Ministry of Defence commitment to assist Gulf vererans.

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