Concussion: RFU head of medicine calls for greater awareness surrounding head injuries

England captain Dylan Hartley has not played since the final game of the Six Nations due to concussion and will miss next month's tour of South Africa. David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

The Rugby Football Union's head of medicine Dr. Simon Kemp has called for a major public health initiative to increase awareness of concussion.

Kemp was one of several speakers at the Brain Injury in Sport round table that took place at Parliament on Tuesday and was chaired by Chris Bryant MP.

While stressing the progress made in diagnosing, treating and educating on one of the most pressing concerns facing all sports, Kemp insisted government assistance was now required to deliver the message to a broader audience.

"Concussion is a complex and emotive subject that has an immature but rapidly evolving knowledge base," Kemp said.

"While we don't know about the long-term consequences, acute management and safe return is absolutely key. Sporting organisations, not just rugby union, are actively engaged in delivering this in their landscapes.

"But I do think that we might have come to the limit of sport's penetration in terms of awareness and a major public health awareness campaign would significantly move things on.

"What we must aspire to are fully integrated sports and government initiatives.

"I use as an example the sport concussion guidelines in Scotland where medics, Sports Scotland, national governing bodies and the Scottish government all work together to produce a set of consistent guidelines.

"The key sports in England would be keen to collaborate on that if possible. There is good, but incomplete penetration in sport around education programmes."

Rugby union and football provide the greatest quantity of concussion data due to their collation of injury numbers since 2002 and 1995 respectively.

It was highlighted in the two-hour session that understanding the pathology of concussion remains in its infancy, but there is a potential link to brain-related illnesses such as dementia and depression that requires further investigation.

Concussion has become a major issue since 2012 when numbers begin to spike, but risk management expert Dr. Colin Fuller stated that this is because of the increased reporting rather than increased frequency of instances of head injury.

Kemp revealed that one of the challenges facing the RFU is recruiting sufficient "elite level doctors" due to the spotlight on concussion in rugby union.

"It's pretty difficult working at an elite level because of the scrutiny of your practise," Kemp said.

Dr William Stewart, lead neuropathologist at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, declared that amid all the focus on concussion and its possible effects, studies show clear health benefits for those engaged in sports.

"Cardiovascular disease was a lot lower in the rugby playing than the control group," Stewart said.

Head injuries are the 10th most common reason for A and E admissions with sport the fourth biggest source of those admissions.

Horse racing over jumps has the highest rate, followed by rugby union and American football, while the risk of concussion in motor sport and particularly motocross was identified as an area in need of greater awareness.