As I’m sure everyone is aware, this weekend passed saw a widely publicised head injury. George North, the well-known and highly talented Northampton, Wales and Lions winger was chasing a high ball when he was upended. He landed awkwardly on his head/shoulder and was knocked out cold instantly. If by some miracle you haven’t seen the incident you can view it by doing a quick search on youtube.
My issue is not with the attempt to catch the ball of the defensive player, or even how it was refereed. I think this was all handled well. The medical staff were allowed remove north from the pitch safely, perform a head injury assessment (HIA) and subsequently North was allowed to return to the field and play on. So as I see it, that means a team of medical professionals deemed that there was no concussion evident and that he was fit to play…
Since the media have gotten their hands on this it has blown out of proportion, albeit due to North’s previous history with head injury. (While I do believe that history of head injury and concussion should indeed be logged and monitored for professional sports persons, that also is beside the point to my argument.) This media pressure has caused Northampton/Premiership to stand down North and begin the process of an independent investigation into the matter.
So let’s think about that for a second, Northampton have effectively thrown their medical staff under a bus. They are saying that they potentially made the wrong decision on the day, that they are culpable of medical negligence in this case even? Did they not hire these people to make these decisions, what medical professional is ever going to allow any player continue if they had a doubt over their safety? And further to this the Premiership say that they are also investigating the matter. So effectively what we can take from all this is that the entire HIA system is pointless, when push comes to shove if neither the team or the league are willing to stand over the word of the medical professional that they employed, briefed and regulated; well what is the point of this entire system to look after player welfare?
While I believe that the manner in which the sport is dealing with head injury and player welfare in general is greatly improving year by year, this for me is an absolute step in the wrong direction. It sends a clear message to all those medical staff working in Rugby Union and it can be safely assumed that all future players who undergo a HIA will never return to the field now. Would you allow yourself to be subject to this ad a doctor or medical professional? No, so don’t even bother with the tests, just keep them off.