First, may I say that I am sure Members on both sides of the House would wish to join me in wishing our troops, wherever they are deployed around the world, a very happy Christmas and a safe new year? That applies equally to the families who support them.
In February, I announced £6.5 million of additional funding to allow all UK service amputees who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to have access to the very latest prosthetics and, to date, 96 Genium microprocessor knee systems have been fitted to 57 patients at Headley Court. The programme to upgrade earlier prosthetics where it is clinically appropriate is expected to be completed within two years. A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Headley Court and meeting clinical staff and injured personnel who had been fitted with the Genium legs, and I saw at first hand the life-changing effects of these high-technology prosthetics.
I associate myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State about Christmas and the troops and their families, many of whom, obviously, will be separated this Christmas.
What feedback has the Secretary of State received from service personnel using the Genium limbs about their effectiveness and whether they deliver greater mobility and control?
The feedback I have had has been universally positive, and often about the small things we might not think of. Service personnel using the Genium have told me that the most transformative thing is the ability to stand still, which is not easy to do on the traditional prosthetics. Being able to stand still and being able to take a pace backwards are key gains, and there is much greater mobility in negotiating steps and stairs and a general enhancement in mobility. This was a very worthwhile investment of £6.5 million.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on these advances and the speed with which they have been accomplished. What preparations have been made to support NHS prosthetics centres, which will presumably take over support for these personnel when they re-enter civilian life?
They will indeed; the arrangements we have made embrace the NHS. The NHS is establishing nine centres of excellence specialising in advanced prosthetics across the UK, and as service personnel and veterans pass out of military care at Headley Court, they will be able to choose whether they want to go to a local centre or to one of the nine regional specialist centres, where we expect that over time standards of skill and expertise will match those currently delivered at Headley Court.
They will continue to be supported as clinically appropriate, and the phrase “clinically appropriate” is very important. The Genium limb is very beneficial for somebody who is in an active phase of their life and we hope many of these veterans and service people will remain active for long periods of their lives. It would not be appropriate for an older person who was less mobile and wished to be less mobile, however. The point of making the money available is so that the clinicians have the scope to prescribe whatever is most clinically appropriate, even when it is the very costly microprocessor knee solution.