Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Government response to petition I signed about Military Medical Facilities

We received a petition asking:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK.”
Details of Petition:

“With the growing numbers of wounded personnel repatriated to the UK and with continued growth in medically discharged personnel since the Falklands war to current conflicts and operations, our service men & women and veterans of previous operational service are owed the best medical care possible. The existing facilities are falling short and the NHS are not meeting the needs of veterans who still need treatment for their service related conditions. A dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital will greatly help resolve this National scandal since the complete closure of our military hospitals that has proved to be total folly.”

Read the Government’s response
The Government is entirely committed to providing excellent medical care for the members of the Armed Forces and for veterans and we share the aspiration of the petitioners to see Servicemen and women and veterans receive the best medical care possible. However, we do not believe that this would be achieved by attempting to create a separate military and veterans hospital in the UK.
This position has been stated many times, and indeed by the MOD’s Surgeon General who said:
“I am adamant that the interests of sick and injured Servicemen, both in peace and on operations, is best met by the current partnership between the Defence Medical Services and NHS Hospitals and that a return to Service Hospitals would be to the detriment of the increasing quality of care provided.”

This view was supported by the cross-party and independent House of Commons Defence Committee in a report on ‘Medical care for the Armed Forces’ published in February this year. It found that:

“The principle behind the decision to move from stand-alone military hospitals to facilities which co-operate with the NHS was the right one, from a clinical, administrative and financial point of view.”
The former UK military hospitals, which have been progressively phased out from the mid 1990s, increasingly failed to offer the range and volume of cases that military doctors, nurses and allied health professionals needed to remain at the leading edge of their professions. This is a pre-requisite for providing the best possible operational medical care which is at the heart of the Defence Medical Services.

That is why, in addition to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine with its links to NHS hospitals in Birmingham, we now have arrangements with five major NHS Trust hospitals. They have all agreed to host MOD Hospital Units (MDHUs) to provide training, development and maintenance of the clinical skills of Defence medical personnel. The NHS hospitals that host the MDHUs are also close to military population centres, and so can offer local secondary care facilities for military patients living or working in the region.

It is precisely because our military medical personnel keep their skills at the forefront of increasingly advanced medical techniques by working in major NHS hospitals that our troops receive such unprecedented levels of medical care in our field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, of course, our medical reservists who play such a significant role in our field hospitals have developed their life saving skills in the NHS.

We fully appreciate the need for Service patients to feel part of the military family, which is why we have already created a Military Managed Ward in the trauma and orthopaedic department at Selly Oak. When their clinical condition permits, our casualties are treated on this ward by a combination of military and civilian medical personnel. A survey of the military patients at Selly Oak in 2007 showed that almost all respondents rated their treatment highly.

The current military arrangements at Selly Oak will be developed further when the new NHS hospital in Birmingham starts admitting patients in 2010. The Chiefs of Staff strongly endorse this plan for the future, which builds Defence medical care into Europe’s largest and most modern critical care teaching hospital. The new layout of the hospital will enable the MOD, with the full co-operation of NHS Trust authorities, to introduce a Military Ward within the Trauma and Orthopaedics Division of the Trust. It will have special features for the exclusive use of military patients. The ward will have a quiet room for relatives, a communal space for military patients to gather and facilities for exercising. A dedicated military physiotherapy area will also be provided close to the ward.

Once the crucial hospital phase is over, and patients have received the most appropriate clinical care, we provide rehabilitation for military patients in a wholly military environment. Many go on to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey, which is a military establishment providing advanced rehabilitation for military patients in an environment that is inspirational and where comradeship abounds. In May, the Government announced an additional £24 million for the Headley Court site to be spent over the next four years to maintain and enhance the establishment’s capabilities. Other less serious cases may go on to one of MOD’s 15 Regional Rehabilitation Units in the UK and Germany. These military units provide accessible, regionally based assessment and treatment, including physiotherapy and group rehabilitation facilities.

In terms of providing a dedicated hospital for veterans, it is worth noting that since 1948 it has been the policy of successive Governments that the NHS should be the main provider of health care for veterans. The range of general medical treatment required by veterans is in most cases no different from other civilians, and it would be wrong to expect them to travel large distances to receive treatment at a single hospital, especially when excellent care is already provided closer to their home and families.

So while we fully appreciate why your concern for the welfare of our armed forces has led you to sign this petition, we hope you appreciate the reasons why we believe the current provision of hospital facilities for injured personnel is the right one.

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