Former England rugby doctor admits 'mistakes' as he calls for greater protection

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

  • Words by ITV News Sports Producer Dan Salisbury-Jones

England rugby’s former team doctor admits he “made mistakes” in missing concussions and says the sport must now make significant changes to protect players.

Dr Phil Batty, who looked after the England squad between 2012 and 2014, says he sent players back out to play who later turned out to be clearly concussed.

He told ITV News: “I have missed concussions where I’ve taken people off for assessment and they’ve been assessed independently or by myself and they’ve been allowed back on the field of play.

"But with hindsight they were clearly concussed, and it became apparent that they were concussed.

“I’ve gone into various battles with experienced coaches in the past where I’ve taken players off and they’ve been really angry with me and even the players have been very angry with me but I am a human being, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve sent people back onto the field of play that at the time I did not know were concussed and I would’ve wished there was greater tools available for me at that time.

“I think hindsight is a really easy thing. I’m not aware of anything that I’ve done in the past where I’ve deliberately sent somebody back onto the field that I know has been concussed.”

Steve Thompson (middle) said he cannot remember the 2003 Rugby World Cup win. Credit: PA

The doctor’s intervention comes on the day lawyers representing eight former players delivered a legal claim to World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU.

Dr Batty feels this could be a watershed moment for the game and has urged the authorities to work with the claimants.

He said: “The only way forwards is involving the families, I mean most of these families love the sport of rugby and they just want to make it safer.

"The vast majority of people from any situation from the other health disasters in Morecambe Bay, Hillsborough and Shropshire, the vast majority of people are well intentioned.

"They need some help, they need some support but they want to make the circumstances safer for those that follow.

“I’ve got huge admiration for the medical lead at the RFU, I think he’s worked incredibly hard to get the evidence and make the evidence available to the sport.

"Clearly there was a huge awareness and learning curve from the settlement from the NFL and I think there has been really a lot of work and lot of change around rugby to try and make it a safer sport from a concussion perspective.

“However, I think there are vested interests in the game, there are some administrators that may not recognise the seriousness of it and I suspect there are some coaches that in the past have not recognised the seriousness of the situation.

“I really hope rugby learns, listens more, and I do think there are going to have to be some significant rule changes to how the game is played.

“It’s become much more of a collision sport, it’s become much more about the collision, the gain line and I just think that needs to be thought through and revisited.

“I love the game of rugby and I really want it to thrive but it needs to change.”

The RFU, WRU and World Rugby released the following joint statement: “World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union can confirm they have received a letter of claim from solicitors representing certain players and will now take time to consider its contents.

"We have been deeply saddened to hear the brave personal accounts from former players.

"Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority. As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.

"We have implemented coach, referee and player education and best practice protocols across the game and rugby’s approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has been recognised and led to many other team sports adopting our guidance.

"We will continue to use medical evidence and research to keep evolving our approach.

"As with any potential legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the letter.”