Published Wednesday, 04 September 2013
Fourteen-year-old Ben died during a school rugby match in January 2011.
At the Carrick Grammar schoolboy's inquest on Tuesday, the Coroner recorded an unprecedented verdict of second impact syndrome (SIS).
The condition causes a swelling of the brain and some research points to children being more susceptible to it than adults.
It is believed it is the first time a death has been attributed to SIS in the UK.
Speaking after the inquest, Ben's family said they wanted to see proper legislation introduced for sport in schools, to ensure awareness of concussion management.
On Wednesday, Mr O'Dowd said: "Deaths from second impact syndrome are, thankfully, rare - indeed this is the first recorded death of its kind here."
I am determined that the lessons from this tragic case are learned and implemented so that we can prevent another family from suffering such a loss.
He added: "Earlier this year my department issued all schools with a copy of 'Safe Practice in PE and Sports', a book which covers a broad range of safety issues connected to sports and games.
"This is an important document and I expect all schools to ensure they implement the recommendations contained in it."
He added: "Of course head injuries do not just happen on the rugby field; they can happen on any sports field, in the playground, on a field trip or even in the classroom.
"As such, schools should already have in place a risk management process to anticipate, minimise and where possible eliminate foreseeable risks.
"Nevertheless, there may be more that can be done. Once I receive the Coroner's report I will be giving it immediate and careful consideration to ensure we can provide schools with updated guidance as quickly as possible."
Despite the guidance that already exists, it would seem to me that we need to do more to raise the profile of second impact syndrome.
"The safety and welfare of pupils is paramount and while I do want to provide schools with guidance as quickly as possible in response to this tragic event, I want to make sure it is the right guidance.
"I will want to liaise with the Chief Medical Officer to ensure his professional advice is incorporated. I will also want to know how the Irish Rugby Football Union will update their guidance and training in light of this case."
Mr O'Dowd said he would be happy to meet with Ben's family as he looks at "what can and should be done".
"My top priority as I look at this issue will be ensuring that no other family has to go through what Ben's family has been through", he said.
Former Ulster and Ireland captain Willie Anderson told UTV that everyone needs to work to ensure player safety.
The rugby coach said: "We operate a three week rule that if a player receives a head injury he does not play for three weeks and only then once a doctor clears him.
"At grassroots level there is a review each time an incident like this occurs to ensure that the message is getting through that concussion is a serious matter.
"It's also important to keep this in perspective that this is not just rugby, it happens in other sports and in many other areas.
He added: "Young players are very keen to be part of the team and contribute and the pressure from them can be tight, but it is vitally important that the coach, at all times ensures player safety is paramount and that any player with a head injury is taken off the field of play."
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