Army's chief doctor quits as medical cover falls

Army's chief doctor quits as medical cover falls to new low
By Sean Rayment
(Filed: 18/08/2002)

The most senior medical officer in the Armed Forces has resigned after allegations that the Service would be unable to provide adequate treatment for injured servicemen in the event of a war with Iraq.

Surgeon General Robert Menzies, the head of the Defence Medical Service (DMS), has left his post six months early. Although there has been no official explanation for his departure, senior officers believe that he has paid the price for the heavy criticism that has been directed at the medical services. It has been partly blamed for failing to redress a crisis which has left one in 10 soldiers incapacitated for front-line duty.

One senior defence official said that it was unclear whether he jumped or pushed but added: "He was effectively a lame duck president. He had all the responsibility of dealing with a failing organisation but very little power to do anything about it."

The Surgeon General's departure - news of which was slipped out quietly by MoD officials - follows increasing evidence that the medical cover for servicemen has deteriorated to alarming levels.

The number of consultant surgeons in the Armed Forces is approaching an all-time low. The medical service should be able to equip 13 field hospitals, where soldiers injured on the battlefield can receive life-saving treatment, but has enough staff to operate only four. By the end of the year there will be only seven trauma surgeons and anaesthetists left.

With the healthcare of Britain's 187,600 soldiers, sailors and airmen depending on the DMS, the Ministry of Defence has now decided that radical action is needed.

An Army officer said: "We have a gun which doesn't work, boots which melt in the heat, tanks which fail in the desert and a medical set-up which couldn't cope in a war - and we are meant to be the most professional army in the world.

"None of my colleagues believes that the service is succeeding. We cannot do the things asked of us. We cannot put troops in the field to look after wounded soldiers in anything but the smallest of numbers. We are reliant on reserves and the Territorial Army.

"In terms of staffing, numbers have got worse and our commitments have increased. People are fed up and they are voting with their feet."

In an unprecedented move, Surgeon General Menzies is to be replaced by a non-medical senior army officer, a decision which has left military doctors and surgeons confused and angry.

Since the early Nineties, the Service has suffered swingeing cuts which have led to the closure of every military hospital and left the organisation with the worst staff-retention records in the forces.

Faced with the growing problems, defence ministers decided in June that the time had come to overhaul the Service's management structure and appointed Lt Gen Kevin O'Donoghue, who was commissioned into the Royal Engineers, as the organisation's new commander.

Members of the Service were told of his appointment in a letter from Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, entitled Changes in the Top Management Structure of the DMS. It was accompanied by one written by the Surgeon General which stated: "I could have continued to serve under these new arrangements until my planned departure date of February. A new structure will, however, require a different way of working and given the massive amount of ongoing change in the DMS it will benefit the new team being in place for as long as possible and for that reason I have decided to retire early."

The DMS is the most understrength and over-committed unit in the Armed Services. Its members were involved in the three Special Forces operations in Afghanistan - Determ, Bleed and Damian.

Operation Determ, one of the largest battles fought by the SAS, resulted in four members of the regiment being seriously injured. Their lives were saved by a trauma team of British surgeons and anaesthetists based at Bagram airport, who carried out emergency operations on all four. It is now accepted by the MoD that the medical service can meet its operational requirement only by the forced call-up of reserves and the deployment of territorials.

Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP on the all-party defence select committee, said: "Soldiers, sailors or airmen have got to have the confidence that if they are wounded they will be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Anything less than that undermines morale and the will to fight.

"I am surprised at the decision to appoint a non-medical man at the head of the organisation because it flies in the face of appointing an expert to deal with matters that are intrinsically technical and need a medical practitioner to understand fully.

"Whatever military adventures Tony Blair has in mind, I hope he listens to the fact that our servicemen need the very best medical attention in every circumstance."

Would be interested to hear comments pse  :)
It seems a little unfair to blame the current crisis in the Defence Medical Services on the current Surgeon General. The DMS never recovered from Defence Cost Studies 15 in the early nineties, which slashed the Service to the bone.

The figures regarding the number of soldiers downgraded cannot be laid at the door of the DMS either. Although it is the Medical Services' job to try to repair these soldiers, not breaking them in the first place is surely a function of Command. The DMS has no control over the numbers being injured each year.

And as for the 13 Field Hospitals, that just shows a total lack of understanding of the cadre system used in the AMS TA. There is no suggestion at all that every single TA Field Hospital is supposed to be a discreet deployable asset! They are recruiting and trainig tools to create a pool of available manpower around an embryonic Command structure.

Given the the SG has now been effectively relegated to the position of Senior Medical Advisor to the new 3 Star, its hardly surprising that he's chosen to 'retire' early!!


War Hero
i think a major factor as well is the number of DR'S and Nurses sigining off because life in AMS & DMS for them is so shit. eg working as NHS staff then getting spammed for tours on return having post tour leave cancelled to meet the needs of the NHS.


I've covered alot of the points in previous replies. But please can all be aware the AMS has shot its self in the foot back in the 90s when as pointed out DCS15 sowed what we now reap. We have 2 Med Bde that has spent its whole life justifying a deployable TA Fd Hops asset which would take the whole of the TA to man. This doesnt take into account how many of the TA would leave the service should the 'Big Push' loom.  Prior to the Gulf War a high percentage of TA resigned. (This is no slur against the TA AMS as I have served as a PSI and know their foibles! I would rather have 10 TA soldiers than 10 regulars anytime. atleast the TA want to be there!) The AMS is heading for a wake up call that will send ripples throughout the service. The RAMC CMT is destined for the RLC and that is just the tip of the iceberg. We have been poorly managed for 15 years and when asked how many soldiers in my Unit have seen the SG's Newsletter, none was the reply. We didn't receive it. 8 months on, nothing has changed. We have had presentations from Steering Groups headed by non medical officers and civilians who know nothing of the roots of the AMs and therefore can do little to rectify the rot! We have Warrant Officers who commission from the RAMC ready to fight the CMT's corner only to get commissioned and then turn round and say, 'Well, the CMT is only the feeder trade for all the other technical trades within the RAMC' Quote unquote. Unless you are a MO or a RGN the AMS has little time for your gripes!


Well done QMan you said it as it is. We only have ourselfs to blame. The warrent officers that have commitioned from the CMT trade have become turncoats. They have forgotten thier roots and have only one thing on thier minds. That is to suck up to thier COs to look after thier own career.
Gone are the days when the most important asset you had was the soldiers under your charge. Now it is just me,me,me,me, and sod the rest!

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