Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

'London bomb stress' recognised

Injured tube passenger and paramedic
The bombings left many injured

Psychologists say they have treated hundreds of survivors of the 2005 London bombings for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over a third of the 1,000 survivors they identified and contacted using police and hospital files needed help coming to terms with the events of 7/7.

Yet few had been referred for treatment by their family doctor and might otherwise have missed out on care.

The University College London findings are reported in Psychological Medicine.

Professor Chris Brewin and his team say mental health outreach programmes such as the one they set up after the London bombings, with funding from the Department of Health, should be featured in future plans for the aftermath of disasters or terrorist attacks.

Professor Chris Brewin on the importance of mental health outreach programmes

Prof Brewin said: "If this programme hadn't existed then there would be hundreds of people still suffering from post-traumatic stress or other psychological problems as a result of the 2005 terrorist attack.

"Many of the survivors complained that GPs often did not recognise or know how to treat their post-traumatic stress."

He said there were extreme situations when relying on GPs and primary care services did not work.

Only 4% of the patients contacted by the psychologists in the outreach programme had been referred for treatment by their GP.

Real difference

Of the 189 patients they treated, the vast majority reported improvements.

Prof Brewin said: "After events like these people have had contact with the death of others and the possibility of their own death. It can be very distressing."

Nightmares, flashbacks and a heightened sense of danger are among the symptoms.

"It's important not to let them struggle on for too long on their own. Post-traumatic stress disorder can last for years and years if untreated."

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "It's fantastic that so much effort was put into looking after the mental health of the London bombings survivors and it would probably be a wise to take a similar approach after future disasters.

"However, everyone should be able to expect high quality and timely treatment for their mental health problems, whatever the cause.

"Unfortunately, many common occurrences such as road traffic accidents, or domestic abuse leave people suffering from shock and PTSD every day, and they should be able to expect support from regular NHS mental health services."

Care Services Minister Phil Hope said following the 7/7 attacks "all those who need help have continued to receive help from the NHS".

The Department of Health has also been working to improve access to psychological therapies for any needing them, setting the target of at least one service in each primary care trust by April 2011.

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