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Ministry of Defence: Treating injury and illness arising on military operations

A report released today by the National Audit Office has found that the clinical treatment and rehabilitation of service personnel seriously injured on military operations are highly effective. The report notes, however, that the rate of illness and minor injury among personnel on operations has almost doubled in three years.

Military commanders, and the patients to whom the NAO spoke, have confidence in the clinical treatment provided at medical facilities in Afghanistan, at Selly Oak, the main hospital for seriously injured troops, and at Headley Court, the MOD’s main rehabilitation facility. The quality of care for the seriously injured is demonstrated by the number of what are medically known as “unexpected survivors”, with the Department’s strength in clinical care underpinned by a clear focus on trauma care.

Medical capacity at both Selly Oak and Headley Court has been sufficient to deal with casualties to date, but it is under increasing pressure. In addition, the main field hospital in Afghanistan – Camp Bastion – is currently coping with casualty levels, but working close to capacity. Contingency plans for providing further capacity back in the UK for care for injured Service personnel have recently improved, but should be developed further.

Reported rates of disease and minor injury in Afghanistan have almost doubled from four to seven per cent. The MOD’s data does not allow it to identify the significance of any of the individual causes of the increase in illness or minor injury which are likely to include the basic living conditions at some forward operating bases, the intensity of operations and improved reporting. Preventing minor illness is preferable to evacuating troops for treatment and would minimize the impact on military capability.

The MOD has taken steps to provide support on operations to personnel at risk of developing mental health conditions but there are weaknesses in follow-up for those service personnel who deploy individually or move between units following deployment. 

522 military personnel were seriously injured on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan between October 2001 and October 2009. Personnel on operations have attended medical facilities 125,000 times for minor injury and illness since 2006 and a further 1,700 times for mental health conditions. The NAO has estimated that the cost of medical care provided as a result of military operations was £71 million in 2008-09.

"The good news is that my report has found that treatment for seriously injured personnel is highly effective. Alongside this positive finding, we point out the need to continue to improve contingency planning for facilities in the UK in the context of a longer term conflict, and the importance of increased efforts to prevent disruption due to rising levels of short term illness." 

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • "Unexpected survivors" are casualties who would usually be expected to die given the severe nature of their injuries.

  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at https://www.nao.org.uk/. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 10/10