Dr James Robson MBE reflects on COVID-19 crisis
Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer Dr James Robson MBE spoke to the media this week to reflect on the current COVID-19 crisis and how Scottish Rugby and himself were working to support players and the wider organisation. Here is what he had to say.
On player welfare
"We have looked very carefully at players and their mental health because of course a lockdown, as the government has flagged up, will lead to an increase in mental health issues and most people are perhaps as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable because their usual routine has been curtailed and they are used to being a very gregarious group.
"As we have come into the lockdown, we have made sure that we have communicated very quickly, we have got stuff that we have put in place for them in addition, of course, each of the team doctors for the pro teams, ourselves and some of the individual team doctors from some of the other groups, the likes of the U20s and the Women’s team are all accessible by the players, should they wish to contact us.
"We are all struggling with the change in our regime."
On ‘behind closed door’ matches
"Taking matches behind closed doors simply takes away the logistical problem of having a crowd and it just alters what you need to put in place in order to cope with that crowd.
"What it doesn’t change is the actual physical nature of a particular game. So closed doors changes some aspects but of course it doesn’t fundamentally change the aspect of rugby or indeed any sport that has an injury. We can’t contemplate going behind closed doors until we get some semblance of normality back to our NHS and private care providers.
"You can widen it to any sport so as physical activity is now very much a key strand of maintaining population health, it helps with reducing obesity, it also is used in reducing cancer, diseases like diabetes. So, everybody now has an acknowledgement that physical activity and increased physical activity is good for you.
"Indeed professional sport might help with the psyche of the nation because it gives the population something to focus on and something to watch but the everyday sport has a part to play in the fabric of our society and it is what can we do to help those sports get back and it might be that we have just now is not what we will have in the near future or indeed even more the long term.
"Getting back to any sport carries a risk of injury, we just need to balance that risk and it has to be at a time that suits the population. We have got to be guided by the government. We have got to be guided by our NHS colleagues."
On players resuming playing?
"We are building that into our scenario planning.
"You can’t just rush people back. When we’ve had a break of any significant period you have to do it in a step-by-step fashion. In the same way you have the graduated return to play protocols for those who have had concussion, we need a graduated return to training. So when we get a handle on when we might start playing matches or when we might start getting back to group training, prior to that we will need to instruct to players what they need to do to get themselves ready.
"Of course, it mirrors – but perhaps for a longer time – the period of time that they get off for the summer holidays. When they come back from the summer holidays, they don’t just go straight back into playing rugby so there is going to be a period of individual training, a period of group training and then there will be contact and conditioning so there is quite a significant period of time required to get boys back into training in any sport but particularly in a contact sport.
"Of course, there is an unintended consequence here of post-lockdown equals rest for the players and from my point of view it’s quite nice for the boys to actually have a period of time where the bodies can rest and recuperate."
On the Scotland vs France game
"We took advice – the best advice – in collaboration with the government at the time and I felt that was the right thing to do. I mean subsequently events have changed, knowledge has changed and sport has closed down, as have mass gatherings. You can only observe the information you have at hand and we certainly put in all the mitigating factors that were being recommended at the time by the World Health Organisation. We had massive amounts of sanitation areas. We were putting out public health messages. We were working with the government to collaborate on that…at the time that was certainly felt the right thing to do."
On players and COVID-19
“If you look at the population in general with the spread of infection across…and I am aware of one or two of our players who have almost certainly had the illness. Currently we’ve got a reasonable state of health but of course we are monitoring that very closely but so far, the initial player from the female squad is the only person that I’m aware of that has ended up in hospital, which is a fortuitous place to be.
“There are two aspects to the illness in our population. I did say to the boys when I was first telling them about the virus that they were relatively safe because they were younger but of course they took such a toll on their immune system with the amount of training that they have to do that makes them slightly vulnerable so they are doubly exposed. But I did say to them that they were perhaps in a better position than me as I was greater than 60 and more likely that I would be more severely affected.”