Given the importance that the whole Government, and especially my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, place on this issue, both he and I have numerous discussions with ministerial colleagues and others across the Department, Government and the community and voluntary sector on a regular basis.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware of the concerns expressed by families recently about the care for seriously wounded and injured service personnel who will have to be discharged from the armed forces because of their injuries—including about their care in the NHS thereafter. What mechanisms have he and his colleagues put in place to ensure that those service personnel get the same standard of care as that provided currently by Defence Medical Services?
I think the hon. Gentleman and I would agree a great deal about this. We are extremely concerned about the future of many badly injured service personnel when they leave the armed forces, and that is why we have put in place a transition protocol. It is also why I often have meetings with Ministers in the Department of Health—indeed my next one is on Wednesday—to discuss how, going forward, we can better serve those who are badly injured. I beg your indulgence, Mr Speaker, but the hon. Gentleman will know of the Army recovery capability that was put in place by the previous Administration, which is similarly helping very badly injured people to go forward with their lives in future.
Effective medical support is essential to any operation, so will the Minister join me in wishing 22 Field Hospital a successful forthcoming tour of Afghanistan, particularly as some 30 servicemen and women from 22 Field Hospital are in the Public Gallery watching these proceedings?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in wishing 22 Field Hospital a good tour. May I say to any Member of the House on either side who has seen the excellent work done by our medical personnel—both regular and reservist—out in Bastion and elsewhere that we should be very grateful to them for the hard work they do? Many reservists give up several months of their time to help our armed forces.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Government are committed to the Army recovery capability introduced by the last Labour Government. A key element of that was the tracking of personnel in the health service once they had left the armed forces. Is that still part of the programme, and if so, when will the deadlines for implementation be met?
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that we are pursuing the policy of the last Government, because on this occasion it was quite right. We are indeed tracking personnel. I am afraid that this is a work in progress, but I will ensure that he receives an update when there is something to update him on.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the close collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and the NHS in dealing with traumatic injuries through the joint unit. Bearing in mind that the NHS does not provide the same level of care for our wounded military personnel, is there not a case for the NHS and the MOD setting up a joint unit to deal with ongoing treatment?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The question of how the transition protocol works is very important, particularly when it comes to health issues. We already have a national centre in Birmingham— the Queen Elizabeth hospital—and I was at the opening in January; it deals with trauma in particular. We are going forward with the Department of Health to ensure that proper treatment is available. We will announce a report on prosthetics shortly, because we must make proper treatment available for people who are injured in the service of their country, and who suffer throughout their lives as a result.