The Ministry of Defence's account of the circumstances surrounding an accident last Tuesday when two Royal Air Force F3 Tornados crashed and their crews ejected was called into question last night.
The MoD had said that two of the four men who ejected from their pounds 20m aircraft seconds before they collided at 1,200mph had been "slightly injured" and were taken to local hospitals.
In fact, according to National Health Service spokesmen, one airman with serious head injuries was turned away from two hospitals because there were no beds. The man, who has not been named, was recovering from head injuries yesterday at the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, after the collision while on a training flight from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. His condition was said to be stable.
The MoD maintains its own medical facilities at public expense to deal with serious injuries to service personnel in operational conditions. There should have been no need to take aircrew to NHS hospitals.
Dr Chris Tyler, director of intensive care at Lincoln County Hospital where the four men were taken, said the pilot was lucky another bed could be found so quickly. He said he tried the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, in Sheffield, which was full, before taking up the last of 12 intensive- care beds at the QMC.
Because of a lack of resources, Lincoln County Hospital has only four intensive-care beds instead of the eight it was intended to provide.
Dr Tyler said: "I and my colleagues across the country are dealing with the National Sickness Service not the National Health Service. I regularly spend an awfully long time on the telephone calling other hospitals trying to find beds. It was very easy this time, I only had to call two hospitals. On my worst day I have had to call 16 hospitals before finding a bed.
"Intensive care is not as high a priority as things like the patient's charter. But the patients I see are not concerned about waiting lists, they are concerned about living or dying."