Committee of Public Accounts


Publication of the Committee's 27th Report, Session 2009-10

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"We recognize the good work the MOD has done up to now in caring for servicemen and women seriously injured on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department and its medical staff are providing a level of care which compares favourably with that provided by the best NHS hospitals.

"What concerns us is the extent to which the MOD would continue to be able to provide that high standard of care if the casualty rate were to increase significantly. Selly Oak Hospital, where returning casualties are first treated, offers injured troops a military culture and environment, expertise in dealing with serious battlefield injuries and wider support for families. The Department needs detailed and robust plans for how it would replicate these important elements in other NHS hospitals and provide the same high standard of care if Selly Oak became full.

"The MOD is planning to expand the capacity of Headley Court where troops with serious and complicated injuries go after Selly Oak for rehabilitation. Given that the facilities at Headley Court are likely to come under increasing pressure, the Department must make sure that the extra beds to be provided are enough."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 27th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence (the Department), examined its treatment of injuries and illnesses arising as a result of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A total of 565 service men and women have been seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001. Over the same time, some 125,000 troops who were based in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought medical help for minor injuries and illnesses, and a further 1,700 for mental health conditions. Medical care for troops injured or ill on operations is first provided by medical officers in the field. More serious conditions are treated at the field hospital at Bastion. Nearly all seriously injured troops who return back to the UK for medical treatment go first to the NHS hospital at Selly Oak and then to Headley Court for rehabilitation.

The Department's care of the seriously injured to date has been highly effective and the Committee welcomes the efforts of the Department in this area. The Department has developed a number of new medical techniques which have contributed to this. The Department's success is demonstrated by the rates of unexpected survivors, which are favourable compared to major trauma victims treated by the NHS. The Committee also commends the good work of the Department to support the families of seriously injured troops.

The main challenge the Department faces, should casualties increase significantly, is to ensure that all military patients will receive the same standard of care they currently experience at Selly Oak and Headley Court.

Some soldiers have suffered severe life changing injuries and will require specialist care for many years. This presents a further long term challenge not only for the Department who provide specialist care for them and support for their families while they remain in the Services, but also for the NHS and other government departments who will become responsible for the medical care and support of seriously injured soldiers after they leave the Armed Forces.

Minor injury and illness are a lesser issue but still have the potential to impact on the fighting strength and morale of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan and the increase in rates from 4% to 7% since 2006 is of concern. The Department believes that increased reporting is in part responsible for this rise but cannot quantify the significance of any one individual factor.