Medical support cuts could spoil defence plan

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Government cuts to medical support for the British armed forces could frustrate present plans for the military.

Since 1990, the number of medical support employees has fallen from 9,461 to 6,946, and further cuts are planned.

The all-party House of Commons Defence Select Committee said in a report published yesterday that lack of military medics could destroy the reasoning behind the Front-Line First Defence Costs Study, leaving defence forces paralysed by lack of back-up.

Two weeks ago, the MoD published the first British Defence Doctrine, and last week announced plans to reinforce quick-reaction forces as part of the shift in military planning from a "continental" to an "expeditionary" strategy.

But the committee report said unless the plans to reduce medical support were reversed, the number of British troops sent to any crisis situation would be limited by the number of medics available to tend the casualties.

The report appeared the day after Nicholas Soames, the Armed Forces minister, and his permanent secretary, Richard Mottram, came under savage attack from the committee over the Ministry of Defence's suppression of information about the use of organophosphate pesticides in the Gulf War.

The report was uncompromising. "We fear that the major reductions in the defence medical services will reduce the ability of the UK to generate military medical support for the front line in the event of serious hostilities short of all-out war," it said. And, in a bitter attack on the Government it goes on: "The committee can see no better example of the Defence Costs Study failing to enhance front-line capability."

The report adds: "The Defence Medical Services are not sufficient to provide proper support to the front line in all realistic scenarios and show little prospect of being able to do so in the future." Therefore, "a choice would have to be made between sending troops without proper medical support or only sending the limited number of troops who could be supported".

Bruce George, a Labour member of the committee, said: "This is one of the most devastating reports ever produced by the committee. It highlights the near-destruction of our medical services, all in the name of alleged efficiency."

Mr George linked the failure of a division within the Surgeon-General's area in the MoD to provide accurate information about the use of organophosphate pesticides in the Gulf War with the lack of spending and low morale in the Defence Medical Services, a charge Mr Soames denies.

The report noted that "the prime purpose of the Defence Medical Services is to train medical staff for war". Peacetime would not provide enough cases to keep doctors and nurses occupied. However, leading military thinkers believe the distinction between "wartime" and "peacetime" is increasingly meaningless in a world where one third of the British Army is on active service, preparing to go or recovering.

"We conclude that ... the Defence Medical Services are not sufficient to provide proper support to the front line in all realistic planning scenarios and little prospect of being able to do so in the future."

Defence Committee, Third report, Defence Medical Services, (HMSO), pounds 12.50

Comments