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Focus on Military

Non-freezing cold injury

It seems unthinkable that service personnel would be let down, despite the Army being well aware of such conditions since World War I

Our military claims specialist, Alexander Davenport, represents a client whose life changed forever when he was wrongly diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease.

Almost everyone has heard of trench foot, synonymous with World War I and the conditions that the soldiers were subject to on the front line. Many would believe that such a condition no longer affects our troops. Sadly, this is still a very real and present danger.

Although the term trench foot was used in World War I, it is otherwise known as immersion foot or more commonly now, Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI).

The Army have had problems with this condition in almost every warzone in which a solider has been exposed to cold and wet conditions. During the Falklands, all the Royal Marines who took part in the yomp across the islands were tested by Dr Oakley of the Institute of Naval Medicine and every single one was believed to have suffered a NFCI.

Unfortunately, there is no single diagnostic test that proves an individual has an NFCI and it can only be diagnosed through the exclusion of other injures such as Raynaud’s disease. This is a condition which has very similar symptoms but is markedly different in presentation. Crucially though, the treatment for this can actually make an NFCI worse.

The Institute of Naval Medicine set up a cold injury clinic which headed up the diagnosis of this condition, and since 2006, Army medics have started to recognise the condition and attempted to prevent it.

The cold injury clinic now works in conjunction with a secondary unit in Catterick dealing with, and diagnosing, NFCI in soldiers complaining of symptoms. These can include pins and needles, numbness in extremities when exposed to cold conditions, pain upon rewarming and constantly cold hands and feet.

These injuries can have a very serious, debilitating impact on victims, leading them to suffer sensitivity to the cold and chronic pain which can affect them for the rest of their lives. Quick and accurate diagnosis is incredibly important and if it is not treated immediately it almost always leads to a medical discharge.

Our Client’s Case

It is only through the correct testing and investigation that an individual can be diagnosed with NFCI and treated appropriately. This increase in knowledge and understanding of this has sadly not stopped individuals, such as our client, Morgan Gilbert, being wrongly diagnosed with Raynaud’s.

Morgan Gilbert, 35 from Angus, served in the Army from 1999 until 2015 when he was medically discharged for his diagnosed Raynaud’s. He suffered a NFCI whilst serving in Afghanistan but upon reporting his symptoms was misdiagnosed.

Whilst on tour in Afghanistan, Morgan suffered from pain in his hands and feet after being exposed to the prolonged extreme cold conditions. It was only upon returning to the UK and going on an exercise in milder conditions when previously he had suffered no problems, that he became concerned. It was at this point that he was wrongly diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease by his Medical Officer and a Rheumatologist, despite all tests relating to the condition coming back negative.

Morgan’s symptoms persisted and it was not until 2015 that he was correctly diagnosed with a NFCI. This diagnosis only came about after he spoke with our team of military experts who noted the symptoms were clearly indicative of an NFCI. In light of this, Morgan was referred to a medical expert and the correct diagnosis was made.

Lessons Must Be Learnt

Only after this point did Morgan begin to receive the correct treatment for his injuries and when asked about his condition and its effects he struggles to hold back.

Morgan said: “This condition has had a huge impact on my life and I feel I deserve to know whether more should, or could, have been done to correctly diagnose me or stop it from developing in the first place.

“In this day and age it seems unthinkable that service personnel would be let down, like I have been, despite the Army being well aware of such conditions.”

Together we are keen for lessons to be learnt and for more to be done to ensure soldiers are supported. This includes training for the freezing conditions and the provision of the correct and sufficient cold weather clothing to prevent an injury which has been around for the better part of 100 years.

Published: May 2018

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Spring 2018

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