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Medics gather to highlight carbon monoxide threat to mental health

The effects of carbon monoxide (CO) on the brain and mental health was the focus of discussion at a roundtable hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG).

The roundtable also looked at ways to improve available treatment and diagnosis, highlighting how victims of CO poisoning often go without treatment, as many GPs lack the equipment, time, or information needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

Even if a patient is diagnosed, those present at the roundtable said there is a severe lack of specialist treatment centres for people living with an acquired brain injury (ABI) following an incident of CO poisoning. This is part of larger issue within ABI treatment which, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ABI, faces a shortfall of 10,000 beds every year. The roundtable’s participants agreed that the development of a specialist clinic for CO poisoning survivors with brain injuries is essential to improving treatment.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a Professor of palliative medicine, and Co-Chair of APPCOG, said: “Having a highly specialised clinic is beyond essential. I think the case has to be made extremely strongly for a clinic to be set up and adequately supported, and that the pathways also need to be looked at.”

The roundtable was chaired by Chris Bryant MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Acquired Brain Injury, and was sponsored by carbon monoxide research charity the Gas Safety Trust. The APPCOG was also joined by Barbara Keeley MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care, and Liz Twist MP, APPCOG officer and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ABI.

Experts at the roundtable also emphasised the importance of preventing CO poisoning. They called on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make CO alarms mandatory across all tenures. They also proposed that families who are pregnant for the first time should be either prescribed or given CO monitors to protect themselves and their unborn children from the risks of CO poisoning, which is particularly hazardous to the health of foetuses. Doing so would make families more aware of CO and its risk factors.

The APPCOG says it is increasingly concerned about the impact of CO poisoning on mental wellbeing, due to it being a cause of ABI. By damaging the brain through oxygen deprivation and toxicity, thereby disrupting its functions, CO poisoning can have an ongoing neurological impact, and affect mental health and wellbeing.

The roundtable is part of an ongoing policy debate about mental health, and the impact brain injuries have on mental health and wellbeing.

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