The PFA accused of failing families over dementia research

EXCLUSIVE: The PFA accused of failing families over dementia research as leading doctor of an ongoing study claims they’ve not referred a SINGLE sufferer to his programme despite commissioning and funding it

  • The PFA funded and commissioned the ongoing FIELD study along with the FA
  • Programme’s leading doctor claims no one has ever said the PFA referred them
  • Dr Willie Stewart believes the lack of awareness of the work his lab can do may have robbed many families and researchers of vital information

The Professional Footballers’ Association may have failed to refer a single dementia sufferer to the groundbreaking research programme they commissioned, according to the doctor running it.

Dr Willie Stewart has revealed the dismay of many families who contact him directly to find answers only to discover it is too late to do so.

The Glasgow-based consultant neuropathologist set up the ongoing FIELD study in 2017, which was jointly funded and commissioned by the PFA and the FA.

The PFA have been accused of robbing families and dementia researchers of vital information after a leading doctor claimed they’ve not referred a single person to his programme

It has already made significant findings, including the alarming statistic that former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely than the general population to die of a neurodegenerative disease and five times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s. Key to the study is the donation of the brains of those who have passed away, for diagnosis and research examination.

‘Our collaboration with the PFA was supposed to put families in touch so they know we’re here,’ Dr Stewart said.

‘But I don’t think we’ve had one family say, “The PFA put me in touch with you”. Everyone who comes to us tells us they’ve heard about what we are doing through word-of-mouth or articles.’

Dr Stewart believes the lack of awareness of the work his lab can do may have robbed many families and researchers of vital information.

‘We get calls from relatives of those who have passed away without knowing about the diagnostic examination and it is heartbreaking,’ he said. ‘We can’t turn the clock back and give them answers and that’s really sad. People want to donate but haven’t been told that we’re here.’

Ex-England star Nobby Stiles (pictured with wife Kay) had advanced dementia when he died

He is unsure why the PFA appear to be reluctant to make referrals. ‘I have no idea,’ he said. ‘We correspond with the PFA regularly and bring it up often. We remind them, “Please, please direct these families to us”.’

Donations from families can not only provide answers, but are also fundamental to the study, as it allows Dr Stewart and his team at the University of Glasgow to examine the impact of playing sport on the brain.

‘It’s really important we get the opportunity to see what happens,’ he said.

Dr Stewart was influential in the creation of Sportsmail’s seven-point charter calling on football to finally tackle its dementia scandal. One of our demands was for additional funding to allow his study to continue for two more years. He has been told he will get the money needed for one year from March and is waiting to hear from the PFA and FA about beyond then.

Stiles (right) and his fellow World Cup winners Sir Bobby Charlton (left) and the late Jack Charlton (centre) have all lived with dementia, along with a number of ex-professional players

For now he is focused on getting the message out that his study is ongoing.

‘I can’t emphasise enough how important it is,’ he explained. ‘Not just for our research but for the families. Every time a story appears in the paper, I get letters. They’re really difficult to read; families who’ve not had an opportunity to get answers to the questions they have about their loved one’s dementia. All I can do is apologise that we weren’t visible to them.’

The PFA declined to comment.

To contact the FIELD study visit: https://gbirg.inp.gla.ac.uk/the-field-study/




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