Wounded soldiers 'get appalling health care'
Thomas Harding, Nick Britten and Catriona Davies / London Telegraph | October 3 2006
Senior Army officers and Service charities united last night in condemning the treatment of wounded troops as "an absolute disgrace".
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff, said the outpatient service for soldiers was "appalling". Charity chiefs believe there is a "lost battalion" of 500 troops who have been ignored or forgotten after leaving hospital.
The row follows The Daily Telegraph's report of security worries at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, where a paratrooper was threatened by a man who accused him of "killing my Muslim brothers in Afghanistan".
Field Marshal Bramall, who commanded the Army during the Falklands conflict, said that military medical care had been "cobbled together" and was clearly not working.
He said: "The Ministry of Defence always said it would put things right with a centre of excellence for military care in Birmingham which was going to be a tremendous place. But it never took off because no funds were put into it. The situation is now very serious and needs to be addressed immediately."
Col Tim Collins, who commanded an infantry battalion during the Iraq invasion, said the public did not care about troops who had been wounded in an unpopular war and that they were not vote winners for the Government.
"The public perception is that these men are volunteers and if you get wounded then bad luck; you should have joined the fire service instead," he said. "We should start caring about our forces and demanding better standards."
There are also growing calls for the Government to build a dedicated military hospital. Seven of the eight military hospitals have been closed since the early 1990s.
While soldiers receive excellent treatment from military medical staff on operations, it is when they are returned to health service care that their difficulties begin.
The wounded are first treated at Selly Oak, where they are meant to be cared for in a military wing, but recently they have been placed in mixed wards with civilians, open to the public and with little security. By contrast, American military hospitals have armed guards and a strict entry system.
The hospital trust that runs Selly Oak has also recorded the highest rate of the superbug MRSA in Britain, figures showed this year.
Sometimes the wounded are not given priority care and receive treatment from doctors ignorant of military life.
Peter Lally, the chairman of the Wolverhampton branch of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, which offers financial help to service personnel, said the MoD refused to disclose information about the wounded and about 500 soldiers had been discharged without adequate support.
"Nobody tells them about us or other service charities," he said. "We cannot help them out if we do not know who or where they are."
The standard of mental health care — a growing area, given the horrors troops face in Iraq and Afghanistan – has also been criticised.
Combat Stress, a charity for ex-servicemen mainly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said the Defence Medical Services were under considerable strain coping with patients. Most troops with mental health problems are now sent to the civilian Priory psychiatric hospital.
The ministry admitted that it needed to improve its outpatient treatment and had agreed to allow veterans to give written consent for their contact details to be passed to a key ex-service organisations. "We are committed to ensuring that our personnel receive the best possible health care," it said.
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