Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Medical Treatment

Volume 691: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the criticisms made of the way that many of the service men and women returning in medical need from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated in the hospitals to which they are referred; and what action they are taking. [HL2691]

We have an absolute duty to the men and women in our Armed Forces, who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf, to provide first-class medical care for them if they are injured. This is precisely what the Defence Medical Services are doing on a daily basis, both on operations overseas and—in partnership with the NHS—back in the UK.

Where concerns are expressed by individual patients about their treatment and care, we address them. Very occasionally, as in any hospital, mistakes can be made. We will, with the NHS authorities, investigate each reported case thoroughly and report back to the patient and his or her family and make sure that any mistake is corrected wherever possible.

When someone is seriously injured, our priority is to ensure that they receive the best possible treatment that is available. Military personnel who sustain a serious physical injury on operations overseas are usually taken to University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHBFT), which includes Selly Oak Hospital, and which is a centre of excellence in the medical care of the types of injuries our casualties sustain. Wherever practicable, military patients are allocated to one of the 12 military consultants who work at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM), based at Selly Oak Hospital. However, by far the largest proportion of specialist care is provided by NHS consultant staff, which reflects the range and capabilities of the knowledge, skills and resources the NHS makes available to our patients. Furthermore, RCDM will be moving to the new hospital being built in Birmingham as part of a major investment and will be the largest critical care unit in Europe.

We of course appreciate the importance of our patients continuing to feel part of the military family. We have created a military managed ward (MMW), located in the main body of Selly Oak Hospital, which reached initial operating capability just before Christmas 2006. A combined team of military and civilian personnel provides care for military patients whose clinical condition allows for them to be nursed in this ward.

The MMW currently consists of two six-bedded bays, with access to four additional side isolation rooms, making a potential total of 16 beds, and is part of the 34-bed S4 trauma/orthopaedic ward. The number of beds on the ward is more than sufficient to match the current levels of military casualties needing trauma/orthopaedic care, although, if necessary, further beds can be allocated. There are military managers involved at every level on the MMW, with a military ward manager responsible for all aspects of the military presence on the ward, whether staff or patient issues, and for liaising with appropriate authorities. The military ward manager is assisted by three military deputy ward managers who are responsible for the planning and delivery of patient care to both military and civilian patients, although they primarily focus on military activity. As well as the managers, there are now a further 19 qualified military nurses, and six military health care assistants allocated to ward S4 military nursing staff are now on duty on every shift on the ward, including the night shift. A military nurse team member visits every military patient being treated at a Birmingham hospital at least three times a day.

The MMW is one of several improvements we have recently made to the treatment of military patients. A military surgical consultant has been appointed as the military trauma patient co-ordinator, who liaises with colleagues to provide advice on service issues and ensures that military aspects of their treatment are taken into account. We have enhanced the military community psychiatric support to our patients in the Birmingham area and, in addition, each military patient now has a named military nurse whom he or she can contact at any time on clinical and other issues. Military patients at Selly Oak and elsewhere in the Birmingham area are supported by the work of four welfare officers of the Defence Medical Welfare Service and other welfare organisations.

The creation of the MMW has been welcomed by service chiefs. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said in a BBC interview on 13 March 2007: “There is nowhere better in the country, nowhere more expert at polytrauma medicine, than the hospital in Selly Oak. That's why our people are there”.