Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Wounded receive quality care but resources at their max

Last Wednesday the National Audit Office published its report on its investigation into "Treating injury and illness arising on military operations".

The main findings were:
  • Clinical treatment and rehabilitation of seriously wounded personnel are highly effective and rated by the military.
  • The high quality of care for the seriously injured is demonstrated by the number of "unexpected survivors".
  • Medical capacity at military hospitals in the UK and in Afghan has been sufficient to deal with casualties to date but it is close to its limit.
  • Reported rates of disease and minor injury in Afghanistan have almost doubled from 4% to 7%.
  • Personnel at risk of developing mental health conditions on operations receive appropriate support but there are some weaknesses in follow-up procedures.

Some figures published in the report:
  • Between October 2001 and October 2009, 522 UK military personnel were seriously injured on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Since 2006 personnel on operations have attended medical facilities 125,000 times for minor injury and illness, with a further 1,700 times for mental health conditions.
  • Some 6,900 people have been evacuated back to the UK from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 for serious injuries and a range of other medical conditions.
  • The estimated the cost of medical care provided as a result of military operations stood at £71 million in 2008-09.

That the treatment for the seriously wounded is both highly effective and of a high quality is, as the head of the NAO himself said, really good news. The worrying thing is that military hospitals seem now to be full.

The current surge strategy with its large-scale offensives against the Taliban (of which Operation Moshtarak is the first) is regretfully going to lead to higher casualties.

The situation is exacerbated by the intense pressure under which UK troops are fighting. Figures released by the MoD show that 46 per cent of all Army units are now in breach of the "harmony guidelines" (leave between combat tours) with the number of soldiers thought to have been affected by the breach estimated at 10,000. The problem of overstretch is further worsened by troop shortages and soldiers who are unfit for front line duty. Virtually every infantry regiment is under-strength by as much as 10 per cent or 70 soldiers and there are around 10,000, servicemen and women who cannot serve in combat zones for medical reasons.

The prognosis is not good for a medical service already running at capacity.

What is even more worrying is that this comes at a time when the Armed Forces budget is about to be hammered yet again. The government cannot depend on Help For Heroes to bail it out; perhaps the bankers could be encouraged to donate some of their bonuses.

NAO: Ministry of Defence: Treating injury and illness arising on military operations
InThe News: MoD feels strain of Afghan wounded
The Telegraph: Overstretch pushes British troops to the brink