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Royal Engineers Diving Establishment (Trainees)

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish the results of the inquiry into the death in 1986 of a Royal Engineers diving establishment trainee on the mudflats at Horsea Island, Portsmouth.

Whilst it is not the Department's policy to publish the findings of service boards of inquiry, I called for a full report on the incident to be prepared and submitted to me following the death of the young soldier last year. This report took into account the findings of the Army's own board of inquiry and the verdict of accidental death returned at the Portsmouth coroner's inquest. The report also detailed what follow-up action needed to be taken. I decided that certain changes should be made to the selection testing procedures for Army diver training. Firstly, the "mud-run" element of the aptitude test—which I suspended immediately following the death of the soldier—would not be reintroduced. Secondly, the staff to student ratio is not to be more than one to five and all staff are to be briefed before each aptitude test of the dangers of dehydration. The staff are also to be briefed on the symptoms and treatment of heat illness. In addition, the local medical centre is to be informed when endurance training in dry suits is being carried out and a stand-by vehicle is to be available at the location where the tests take place. Finally, training in dry suits is now limited to 30 minutes with a minimum interval of two hours between normal physical training and training in dry suits. In deciding whether any changes should be made, I have taken into account the need for the tests to remain sufficiently demanding to ensure that only suitable candidates are selected for what is a hazardous profession while at the same time reducing as far as possible the risks to the individual. I believe these new rules, all of which are in force, will achieve this aim.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what medical supervision there is of training runs, in particular for Royal Engineers Diving Establishment trainees, whilst wearing diving suits.

All Army diving supervisors at the Royal Engineers diving establishement are trained in first aid and diving-associated illness. At the HMS Vernon site there is a RN leading medical assistant who has specialist training in illness related to diving. In addition, the local medical centre at MHS Nelson provides 24-hour medical cover and is informed on each occasion when endurance training in dry suits is being undertaken by Royal Engineers diving establishment trainees. A standby vehicle is also available at the location on each occasion where endurance training is taking place. The facilities at the Royal Naval hospital Haslar, and in particular the Institute of Naval Medicine, are also available if required.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if runs on mudflats at (a) Horsea Island or (b) Whale Island in Portsmouth harbour are planned for the summer months for Royal Engineers diving establishment trainees.

There are four Army diving training courses planned to take place at the Royal Engineers diving establishment between early May and late July. Some elements of the training may take place at either Horsea island or Whale island and my include training on mud. In addition, there are two diving aptitude tests planned to take place during this period. Such tests no longer include a run on mud. this element of testing was suspended and will not be introduced following the tragic death last year of a young soldier whilst undergoing aptitude testing.