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Service Personnel (Health Care)

Volume 460: debated on Monday 14 May 2007

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of medical support for service personnel on their return to the United Kingdom from operational theatres; and if he will make a statement. (136570)

We regularly assess the medical support for service personnel to ensure that it is among the best in the world. That support can range from life-saving surgery in the UK’s NHS hospitals and the excellent facilities at the Defence medical rehabilitation centre, to the treatment of routine ailments on a daily basis.

General Dannatt has made it clear that he wants a dedicated military ward for our service personnel, but the Prime Minister will only support a military-managed ward, which is not good enough as a long-term solution to the problems. Will the Under-Secretary look again at the issue, because a number of our service personnel feel that they are being let down?

May I quote what General Sir Richard Dannatt actually said about Selly Oak?

“There is nowhere better in the country, nowhere more expert at polytrauma medicine than that hospital in Selly Oak, that’s why our people are there.”

We are moving to a fully military-managed ward during the summer. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that work commenced on the partition in the ward today. We are increasing the number of military nurses there, and there is also welfare support and psychiatric support. As part of the examination of the new hospital building, a military ward is being considered under the new private finance initiative scheme at Birmingham. Obviously, we will take that into consideration in the next few months.

Although military personnel who are critically ill or injured must of course have the best treatment available anywhere, wherever that may be, does the Under-Secretary accept that there are overwhelming reasons why, for psychological and morale reasons, military personnel should be treated in a military environment? Other nations, and military personnel themselves, are incredulous that the Royal hospital Haslar, which is just such a military environment, should be closed.

I listen very carefully not just to the experts in the Ministry of Defence but to the clinicians and nurses who carry out their duties in places such as Selly Oak and in our field hospitals in the operational theatre, and no one whom I have come across so far believes that we can go back to military hospitals. There are not enough patients to ensure the training and care experience that our clinicians and nurses need if they are to provide the world-class care and treatment that they currently do.

However, as I said in response to the previous question, we recognise that the military environment is important, which is why we are moving to a military-managed ward at Selly Oak. That includes at least 26 military nurses—the number will be increased to 39 in the summer—military medical consultants, clinicians, welfare support and psychiatric support. There are also liaison officers in the ward, who liaise with the units of the injured service personnel. We recognise the importance of the military ethos, but it is important to ensure, too, that we use the best NHS skills and support within the NHS to ensure that our injured service people receive the best possible treatment and care.

The Minister’s remarks are welcome, as resources have at last been made available to our recovering servicemen. However, does he not understand the distinction between a military-managed ward and all that that means, which he described, and a ward on which only military people are treated, so that service personnel can recover surrounded by their comrades, and not find themselves, as in one recently reported case, waking up with elderly ladies on either side, one of whom said, “What happened to you, lad?” People recover faster when they recover among their own kind.

It is clear that a military-managed ward is the stage to which we are moving. With partitions, it will allow a much better military environment, with the involvement of many more military and medical personnel, plus welfare support, as I have already said. The new hospital being built at Birmingham offers us an opportunity to improve on that by providing a better military environment, and we will consider whether we can provide a full military ward. That is something that we are examining, and the decision will be made in the coming months.