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Iraq: Field Hospitals

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the clinical services and welfare support available to sick and injured troops serving in Iraq are sufficient to meet their needs in the light of increased indirect mortar and rocket attacks on field hospitals and surrounding areas.

My Lords, there is in theatre a major medical incident plan which can be invoked if it is likely that additional medical facilities are required. This plan is constantly reviewed and has been invoked previously and proven effective. In addition, force protection measures are being enhanced to improve infrastructure protection against indirect fire. Details of these plans cannot be released; to do so would seriously compromise operational security.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful and informative Answer. I declare an interest as a trustee of the St John and British Red Cross Defence Medical Welfare Service, under contract with the Ministry of Defence. Currently there are two welfare officers serving in the field hospital in Basra under military command. The chief executive officer of the Defence Medical Welfare Service has recently returned from a three-day visit to the hospital, where he saw at first hand the excellent facilities and equipment that are available in the hospital and, more importantly, the skills and compassion of the clinical team and welfare officers. Can the Minister give an assurance that, in the forthcoming committee of inquiry into the welfare of our Armed Forces, account will be taken of the professional welfare officers?

My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the assurance she seeks. The department fully recognises the vital role played by the Defence Medical Welfare Service and others, which provide for the practical and emotional support of our troops and their families. This will, of course, be reflected in the evidence that the department is submitting to the House of Commons Defence Committee.

My Lords, the Question recognises the increasing hazards to our forces and the welfare support forces as we draw down our bases in Iraq to a single base. This raises another strategic question. Can the Minister assure the House that there are forces on call at high readiness to provide rescue and casualty evacuation capability in the event of a major contingency?

My Lords, the United States has brought in protocols to deal with brain injuries, psychological and physical, as a result of blast injuries. I understand the MoD is waiting to see the results of this programme despite widespread medical evidence that the Americans are doing the right thing. In the light of that, will the Government reconsider this?

My Lords, I shall certainly take back to the department the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. I shall write to him and leave copies in both Libraries.

My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that those who are seriously injured and ill get sent back to the appropriate hospital in the UK as soon as possible?

Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. The medical attention that our troops receive in theatre is a first step. They receive extremely good—world-class—attention, but it is always with the view to getting them out and home as soon as possible.

My Lords, what studies are being undertaken into the psychological trauma of those evacuated with battlefield injuries? It has been a constant complaint that those in the Territorial Army have received less than adequate attention.

My Lords, we seek continually to improve our psychological support in theatre, at Selly Oak and at Headley Court. It is under constant review.

My Lords, I saw the work of the Defence Medical Services in the first Gulf War and realised the enormous value of the arm and the service that it provides. There is a suggestion that, as a result of the inquiry, its role may be undertaken by SSAFA. That is entirely inappropriate because SSAFA’s role is with families. Will the Minister ensure that, as a result of the inquiry, the work of this valuable arm and the service continues and two separate welfare services are provided in whatever is ultimately produced?

My Lords, the department, in its evidence to the inquiry, will put strongly the case for retaining the present role of the Defence Medical Welfare Service. Other charitable bodies and organisations play equally important but different roles.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has made a generous settlement for service doctors?

My Lords, the Government have accepted in full the pay recommendations of the independent body for service medical and dental officers. The recommendations seek a balance with the Government’s approach to public-sector pay, including the Chancellor’s view that pay awards should be in line with the inflation target of 2 per cent, the prevailing economic conditions and DMS manning, recruitment and retention.

My Lords, what is the current shortfall below target in the medical workforce of the Armed Forces? I declare an interest as a member of the diversity panel of the Armed Forces and a former member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.

My Lords, I cannot say with accuracy what the current shortfall is, if there is one, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord.