The Times newspaper for 7 December carried an article about trials being carried out at Oxford University which should help doctors to identify and evaluate “mild” traumatic brain injury and concussion on an objective basis.  Whilst there is a view held among some doctors that no head injury should be classed as “mild”, given the complexity of the brain concussion is certainly very often overlooked and poorly understood. 

It is a big problem in particular with sporting injuries and the article suggests that in future, the tool which carries out the tests could be used on the sides of sports pitches, racecourses, horse trials, cycling races-almost anywhere where sports take place in fact.  It could be used to triage (assess) patients in hospitals very quickly, thus cutting down on waiting times and leading to less use (potentially up to 40% less)  of costly machinery such as CT and MRI scanners. We know there are record delays in A&E departments and due to this, many people decide they can’t wait and go home undiagnosed.  This can lead to serious issues, such as a slow brain bleed, being undiagnosed and causing severe problems later on.

Concussion can be difficult to diagnose objectively.  Those with suspected concussion are usually seen by a neurologist, often taken through a questionnaire and then possibly scanned, either to confirm the clinical picture or as a diagnostic tool where the diagnosis is differential or unclear despite earlier examinations.

However, particularly in sports, the athletes want to get back on the bike; into the saddle or back on the track as quickly as possible-those experienced in being tested for concussion know quite a few tricks to get past the tests!  It’s not in their own interest to do so of course, but it does happen.

But it’s not just sportspeople who get concussed. Simple falls or bangs to the head can do it.

Therefore, a quick and objective means of diagnosis would be a great step forward.

The tool being tested (developed by healthcare company Abbott) is portable and delivers results in minutes.  A small blood sample is taken from the arm and applied to a cartridge. After a process, the cartridge holding the blood is inserted into the handheld tool and the blood analysed for proteins associated with concussion.  Abbott say they are trying to develop the test to be even quicker and more portable, making it even easier to use.

Early diagnosis and treatment is essential with head injuries; partly to treat what is there and partly to prevent injuries worsening or developing.  Trauma doctors usually say that the first hour after a head injury is crucial in determining the long -term outcome in many cases.  Proper treatment can be the difference between someone making a recovery and re-integrating back into life, or a catastrophic brain injury.   There is some evidence to suggest that traumatic brain injuries can put younger people at higher risk of offending and also causes poor mental health issues.

Peter McCabe is the Chief Executive of Headway, a national charity for brain injured people, of which our Head of Department John Knight is a trustee. He says:

“Minor traumatic brain injury can be difficult to diagnose. It is an evolving condition whereby the symptoms are often delayed in their presentation, contributing to misdiagnoses or patients not actively seeking medical attention”

What we see as solicitors dealing with head injuries and brain damage is that sometimes, a subtle and potentially undiagnosed brain injury is interpreted by Defendants in both personal injury and medical negligence cases as a Claimant malingering, exaggerating their injuries, or even worse, fundamental dishonesty, where the Claimant is accused of downright lying.  If a judge at trial finds the latter to be so, then it can have very serious consequences for the Claimant in terms of not being awarded any compensation at all and on top of that, having to pay their own and the Defendant’s costs.

So it is extremely important that if a Claimant’s symptoms and behaviour can be explained as being due to a brain/head injury, it needs to be.

This new device, if successful, could be a vital tool in an early diagnosis and better treatments for head injuries.

We can help

If you are a victim of a head or brain injury and need to seek legal advice please contact our Medical Negligence Team. Call 01522 561020 or email

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