Remembering 7/7: Trauma experts speak on treating victims of 2005 bombings

The number 30 double-decker bus in Tavistock Square which was blown up by a suicide bomber on 7/7. P

The number 30 double-decker bus in Tavistock Square which was blown up by a suicide bomber on 7/7. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/PA - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Relatives of those who died in the July 7 bombings that brought terrorism to the streets of Camden will be returning to the borough tomorrow to mark its 10-year anniversary.

Jane Fawcett, who helped treat underground workers for trauma after the 7/7 bombings. Picture: Nigel

Jane Fawcett, who helped treat underground workers for trauma after the 7/7 bombings. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The Mayor of Camden will be joining the loved ones of those who lost their lives, as well as those who survived, at a private ceremony in Russell Square gardens.

Throughout London, tube announcements will be halted and buses brought to a standstill at 11.30am as a minute’s silence is observed and thoughts turn to the 52 people who were killed and 700 who were injured in the attacks.

And praised in Camden this week was the “tireless work” of the emergency services, London Underground employees and local hospital staff who kept the death toll lower than it could have been on that day.

Coming across horrific scenes in the tube tunnels, the impact from what they witnessed led some to experience significant trauma.

Jane Fawcett, 71, came out of retirement as a trauma specialist to help workers deal with the things they had seen that day.

A Kentish Town resident, her career saw her treat the victims of other terrorist attacks around the world and she was this time hired by the British Transport Police.

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She said: “Workers I treated were clearly shaken by what had happened that day and they musn’t be forgotten. They had seen the most terrible things and some were really badly affected, suffering trauma.

“It’s not normal to see bits of bodies all over the place and it must have been hell down there in the tube, with all the heat and chaos.

“But I was incredibly impressed with them all. They didn’t think of themselves that day but only about saving lives – and they did it in the most appalling conditions.

“People have an enormous capacity to recover from events like these but some suffer from flashbacks, depression or start drinking too much. We musn’t forget them.”

After the attacks, a dedicated screening team within the Traumatic Stress Clinic, run by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I), contacted more than 900 people who had been involved in the bombings, screening around 600.

More than 30 per cent of those screened were said to have met criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition as a result of the bombings, the most common diagnosis being PTSD, followed by travel phobia.

Consultant clinical psychologist Mary Robertson, from the Traumatic Stress Clinic, explained: “Symptoms of PTSD include having flashbacks of what you have witnessed, what you have heard, and not being able to get the memories of what you experienced out of your mind. Constantly reliving it, even if you don’t want to think about it, nightmares, sleeplessness and more.

“Avoidance is very common afterward. Avoiding anything which might remind you of what happened. Typically a lot of the people we saw then developed travel phobias, they didn’t want to travel on public transport, they didn’t want to use the bus system and others stopped going to work.

“There can also be feelings of survivor guilt. The fact that you may have survived and others didn’t or were injured can also haunt people.

“Anniversary reactions are very common after an event like this. The images in the media and a reminder of the event can create distress and you can find yourself thinking again about the event and having an upsurge of symptoms can be common, even if you have been coping well. It is normal and understandable given what happened.”

It’s estimated that around 4000 people were affected and therefore there may be many people who were affected but who have not yet accessed help.

C&I is encouraging anyone who has been affected to speak to their GP and ask for referral to local trauma services for treatment.

Ms Robertson added: “If you are struggling to cope with the effects of the attacks please seek help. It may be 10 years down the line but you can get better with the right kind of treatment.”

Also remembered are those at north London hospitals who worked round-the-clock to help the injured.

At the time, the Ham&High reported the chaotic scenes that saw the Royal Free, Whittington and University College Hospital (UCH) inundated with over a hundred victims.

Paul O’Flynn, a top surgeon from Hampstead, spoke at the time of treating seven of the most seriously injured arriving at UCH.

He said: “People with serious multiple injuries were coming into A&E with burns, neck and chest injuries.

“There were victims with broken ribs, collapsed lungs, abdominal injuries.

“One patient had only one pint of blood in his body when he arrived. You would normally have eight.

“As far as I know, none of the patients died.

“If you consider that you might not have expected even half to live through the first day, it is really quite a tribute.”