MANDATORY training for treating concussion injuries during sports games should be introduced in schools in Northern Ireland, a coach whose teenage pupil died on the rugby pitch said.
Neal Kennedy added he still felt unprepared for dealing with such a serious condition.
Mr Kennedy checked Ben Robinson, 14, on the Carrickfergus field shortly before his final collapse. He was involved in a series of heavy tackles – one of which left him on the ground holding his head – and he died from brain injuries, a Belfast inquest heard.
A letter from Mr Kennedy said: “A year has now passed since the tragic loss of a Carrickfergus Grammar School pupil following a head injury.
“The aftermath of this incident continues to play out week after week and beyond our school curriculum.”
He highlighted the alleged lack of advice being given to coaches of school-age players about concussion.
“It needs to be disseminated to schools in a more coherent manner rather that in an ill-fated schoolmaster fashion,” he said.
He noted the lack of numbers at a concussion seminar at Ulster Rugby’s Ravenhill headquarters, with the exception of staff from his school.
“This should be made compulsory for all coaches working with under-age or adult players,” Mr Kennedy wrote in a letter to the rugby authorities.
“I still feel unprepared in dealing with such a serious condition.”
Ben was playing for Carrickfergus Grammar School against Dalriada High School in January last year when he collapsed.
The schoolboy rugby player died on the final whistle just minutes after he was seen holding his head following an earlier challenge. The inquest is exploring whether he should have been taken off earlier with suspected concussion. He died from swelling of the brain which medical experts said could be triggered by two impacts affecting the head.
Mr Kennedy expressed his concerns to the chairman of the Ulster Schools Rugby Committee earlier this year and his letter was read to the Belfast inquest.
Chairman John Wilson said dealing with concussion could become part of the required coaching qualification.
Carrickfergus Grammar principal Kieran Mulvenna told the inquest: “I feel it would be helpful if, given the assessment of concussive injuries, there was an agreed set of protocols, an agreed set of protocols which would be universally accepted and applied which at the very least would hopefully create a safer environment for children and ... the security of obligation on coaches. Where there is obligation there is no choice.”
He said there needed to be protocols that are universally understood around the safeguarding of children and added disseminating those would provide clarity for parents.
A pathologist said Ben died from second impact syndrome after receiving at least two knocks to the head. The condition causes the brain to lose control of blood flow, prompting swelling of the brain and some bleeding.
A senior doctor unofficially in charge of first aid at the rugby match said he was unsure whether he would have done anything differently following the first tackle Ben was involved in.
Dr Paul Loan, a consultant anaesthetist at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, whose son played for the Dalriada team opposing Ben, said: “I have never seen anything like this (second impact syndrome), I have never even heard of it and for this to have happened was a shock at the time and I am not sure what I would have done differently. If I had known that I might have been more pushy, for example, and gone over and said I need to examine that boy.”
Ben was on his feet by the time he approached to examine him and the doctor had no further concerns.
The consultant said he ran on to the pitch when Ben collapsed following another tackle and gave him first aid but added that it quickly became apparent he had suffered brain stem damage.