Four Out Of Five July 7 Victims Still Have Trauma Symptoms

More than 80% of the survivors of the July 7 London bombings are still suffering psychological symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to the first study of the long-term effects of the attacks. Nearly 18 months after the bombings, health protection officials have released details of the impact on survivors – but they are still searching for up to 3,500 people nearest the four bombs who fled the scenes. Psychologists fear that many are still struggling to come to terms with what they saw.

The research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) involved questionnaires returned by 158 survivors, with 82% saying they were still experiencing emotional symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some 30% of those injured have hearing problems such as tinnitus and some degree of deafness. But the research also gives the first clear indication that people caught up in the emergency were not exposed to any chemical agents which could harm their health. Asbestos on the trains was not released in the explosions.

The results were released at an HPA conference in London about the longer-term health implications of the bombings. Susan Harrison, who lost a leg when the bomb exploded on the tube travelling between King’s Cross and Russell Square, told the conference that there was considerable concern among survivors that they had inhaled noxious fumes after the explosions.

Brenda Thomas, scientific coordinator of the HPA research, said they had struggled to contact people involved, and data protection laws made it difficult to access the information gathered by hospitals. “So many people walked away without giving their details to anybody. It is a big problem.” The HPA is now working with the NHS to develop new ways of compiling lists of contact details for people affected in major emergencies.

Peter Scragg, director of a programme set up to screen survivors for psychological problems, said: “People are presenting with classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: horrible images that they can’t get out of their mind, becoming distressed if they are reminded, feeling that nowhere in London is safe. Lots of people are still avoiding public transport and we’re seeing people avoiding the deepest parts of the underground.”

Of almost 850 people screened, 30% had disorders including post-traumatic stress and travel anxiety. Those who had come forward to be screened in recent months were more deeply traumatised because they had not had any support, he said.