Intended for healthcare professionals


Anthony Leslie Revell: surgeon general of the British Armed Forces who found himself at the forefront of investigations into “Gulf war syndrome”

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 25 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l857
  1. Matt Limb
  1. Croydon, UK
  1. limb{at}
Photo credit: Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service

Tony Revell was the Armed Forces’ medical chief who had to deal with a surge in reports of health problems affecting many veterans of the Gulf war of 1990-91.

Revell, a Royal Navy anaesthetist who became surgeon general to the Armed Forces, faced pressure from campaigners and government to explain a possible “Gulf war syndrome.” By the early 1990s, many Gulf veterans were reporting debilitating conditions ranging from chronic fatigue, headaches, and sleep disturbances to joint pains; irritable bowel, stomach, and respiratory disorders; and psychological problems. Risk factors put forward as possible causes included exposure to biological and chemical warfare agents, pesticides, pre-deployment vaccines, toxic smoke from oil well fires, and depleted uranium used in tank busting weapons. The controversy dogged John Major’s Conservative government and brought accusations that parliament was misled about key details of coalition forces’ activities.

Revell, who was a surgeon rear admiral in 1991, became head of the Royal Naval Medical Services and director general of the navy in 1993. He was promoted to surgeon vice admiral in 1994, then became surgeon general (1994-97), with ultimate responsibility for the Defence Medical Services, tri-service medical standards, and medical support to operations.

“It was about that time he was facing all the flak,” says Tim Spalding, an orthopaedic surgeon and former Royal Navy officer who came to know Revell well and saw him as a mentor. “He had to face that whole …

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