Today the Defence Select Committee publishes their first report on the Armed Forces Covenant, which looks at military casualties. Future reports will examine housing and other aspects of the covenant.
In recent years the Armed Forces have been operating in both Afghanistan and Iraq and have sustained many casualties. In the light of this the committee decided that it was important to consider the immediate care and also the rehabilitation process for those injured on active service.
I attended a number of evidence sessions on this inquiry and the committee heard from many witnesses who provided compelling evidence and helped inform the final report. Among the witnesses were MoD Ministers, medical officers from the three services, Chairs of the Services Families Federations and the heads of a number of charities. It was particularly good to see Bryn Parry of “Help for Heroes” which is based in my constituency being asked to give evidence.
The committee also visited the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Hedley Court, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and Haslar Company in Plymouth which very much helped inform the findings.
There were a number of conclusions and recommendations, three of which I felt were worth highlighting.
First, the committee made recommendations on medical treatment and rehabilitation. We were particularly impressed by the treatment available at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for those wounded and are keen to be assured that these services will continue to be well funded and maintained.
The issue of alcohol and its misuse has, for too long, not been the subject of proper scrutiny. This is why, as a committee, we decided from an early stage that this subject must be included in our inquiry. I believe that the MoD must take alcohol misuse more seriously and allocate new resources to help resolve problems associated with alcoholism. The committee recommends the MoD should institute a study into the drivers behind excessive alcohol consumption and modify its policies accordingly.
Secondly it has long been recognised that servicemen can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but it has become increasingly clear that severe physical injuries can lead to detrimental implications for mental health. We examined the availability of mental health treatments for serving personnel, both while on operations and on their return. Ongoing research in this area should inform new MoD practices in the near future and the report calls for the Department of Health to work more closely with the MoD to deal more effectively with the problems faced by returning personnel.
Mental health has not always been openly discussed in military culture and, sadly, has frequently been perceived as a sign of weakness. I am pleased that there has been a great deal more awareness of mental health issues. The widely acclaimed report of Dr Andrew Murrison MP has deepened our understanding of the mental health challenges that exist: the committee will be following closely how its recommendations are implemented.
Thirdly, the committee took evidence from the many service charities who work to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of those wounded in the line of duty. The committee was particularly interested to examine the working relationship between the MoD and the charitable sector.
We are at a time when the military is frequently in the media due to its very visible deployment on operations. However, when combat troop numbers are reduced it is probable that charitable donations may diminish. Therefore, we were particularly concerned to ensure that the relationship with the charitable sector is properly governed – excellent capital projects such as Tedworth House provided by Help for Heroes must have their future running costs budgeted for by the MoD for the long term, not just the immediate future. Many of the badly injured will require ongoing specialist care for two or three generations: the MoD should not have to rely on charitable donations to fund core rehabilitation and care services for our injured servicemen and women.
I hope the MoD takes account of the recommendations in the committee’s report. It is only right that the best possible medical care is made available for as long as is needed for those who have bravely served and sacrificed so much for their country.