My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of: Ranger Aaron McCormick, 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment; Guardsman Christopher Davies, 1st Battalion Irish Guards; Private John Howard, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment; Corporal Steven Dunn, 216 (Parachute) Signal Squadron; Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Wood, 23 Pioneer Regiment RLC (Royal Logistics Corps); and Private Joseva Vatubua, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, who were all killed on operations in Afghanistan.
Turning to my noble friend’s question, work continues on establishing the feasibility of a defence and national rehabilitation centre. No decision on the future of the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court will be taken until this is complete.
Will my noble friend accept that the whole Chamber would share his condolences to the families concerned, and our very deep sorrow at that serious loss of life?
In view of my noble friend’s Answer, will he bear in mind that the medical rehabilitation headquarters at Headley Court is a renowned centre of excellence; that it last year treated more than 6,500 patients; that its outstanding team of specialists should not be broken up; that approaching £20 million has been invested in its facilities in the past five years; and that a further £24 million was committed in 2008?
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend says. Headley Court is a marvellous facility which the nation should be extremely proud of. I am sure that the whole House will join me in praising the medical and support professionals who are delivering first class specialist rehabilitation of the most complex cases.
I assure my noble friend that we will continue to ensure that Headley Court is fit for purpose, in terms of capacity and capability. As with any defence unit that employs both military and civilian staff, we will maintain the correct mix and structure of health professionals.
My Lords, I join these Benches in paying tribute to Ranger Aaron McCormick, Guardsman Christopher Davies, Private John Howard, Corporal Steven Dunn, Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Wood, and Private Joseva Vatubua. Our condolences are extended to their families and friends.
Turning to the Question, the support of these Benches for Headley Court when we were in government was admirable. In recent years we spent £27 million and matched Help for Heroes’s £6 million pound for pound. The important idea, which I think that the Government have grasped, is that Headley Court is not a building, it is a concept. It is a concept about supporting our troops when they are injured. The last Government set up a scoping study under Sir Tim Granville-Chapman, former Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, to look at whether the building was the way forward or whether a separate establishment was right. Could the Minister report on the progress of that report and, in doing so, give us a total commitment to the Headley Court principle and concept continuing into the future, which I think he is very happy to do?
I agree with the noble Lord about the concept. Of course I can give him the commitment that he seeks.
The study he mentions is nearly completed and we anticipate being in a position to make a statement some time before the summer Recess. This was set up to build on the success of Headley Court. Any new facility would have a military rehabilitation centre at its core. There was wide consultation across the Government, including the NHS, the charitable sector and military rehabilitation experts, and MoD trade unions were fully consulted. In the mean time we shall continue to invest in Headley Court to ensure its provision of world-class care. We would only envisage leaving if there was an ensured level of future care at the new centre that surpassed Headley Court’s current and planned capabilities.
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that family visits are a vital element of the care provided to inpatients at Headley Court. Norton House, a SSAFA-run property about three miles away, is specifically for families of inpatients at Headley. It contains six double bedrooms. Headley Court also has two fully equipped three-bedroom properties located on the married quarters estate. If all of these are full, we access the local Holiday Inn, which is funded through preferential rates by SSAFA. Travel while in the vicinity is provided by military transport or a taxi service paid by SSAFA. I understand that, at all the aforementioned places, it is free for the families.
Will the Minister recognise that, while the whole House offers condolences to those who are bereaved, those in Headley Court are also bereaved and have often been deeply traumatised? In paying tribute to the staff, both professional and civilian, we must also pay tribute to those who are there and support each other in their rehabilitation. The success of Headley is precisely because of that shared supportive environment in which they maintain each other, having had shared common traumatic experiences.
Is the Minister aware of a growing problem? A number of the people who go through Headley Court are equipped with high technology artificial limbs. Unfortunately, very few NHS centres around the country are capable of maintaining those limbs. Something needs to be done to put this right, to prevent the people who have been equipped with this high-tech equipment being unable to use it.
My Lords, I am aware that Help for Heroes has donated a lot of money to Headley Court and we are very grateful for that. Any possible plan to sell Headley Court is years away, but we would bear in mind all the very generous donations that have been given.